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Bounty by U.S. May Target Taylor

November 09, 2003|From Reuters

CALABAR, Nigeria — Nigeria tightened security around the refuge of former Liberian President Charles Taylor after Washington offered a $2-million reward for what it called "a Sierra Leone war crimes suspect" -- widely believed to be Taylor.

A clause in an emergency funding bill for Iraq and Afghanistan signed by President Bush on Thursday allocated $2 million for "rewards for an indictee of the Special Court for Sierra Leone."

Taylor went into exile in Nigeria in August. He was indicted by the U.N.-backed war crimes court in Sierra Leone, which accuses him of arming rebels in Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war in exchange for diamonds.

Nigerian presidential spokeswoman Oluremi Oyo said the U.S. had not discussed the reward with Nigeria, one of its key allies in Africa and its fifth-largest foreign supplier of crude oil.

Asked whether the U.S. move constituted a threat to Nigeria, she said: "A friendly nation would not encourage the violation of the sovereignty of Nigeria." Any attempt by foreign forces to capture Taylor, she added, "would be a violation of territorial integrity."

A source close to Taylor said Saturday that security had been beefed up around the former Liberian leader's hilltop villa in the southeastern Nigerian city of Calabar. "They are not taking it lying down," the source said.

Five Nigerian policemen armed with assault rifles and at least one plainclothes security guard were protecting Taylor's villa, a witness said.

Spokeswoman Oyo said Nigeria had granted Taylor asylum as part of a peace plan agreed to by other African nations and had been initially commended by the United States for doing so.

Former warlord Taylor, who was elected Liberia's president in 1997, came under pressure to leave from rebels who advanced on the Liberian capital, Monrovia, this summer and from diplomats who insisted that his departure was necessary to end years of violence.

A United Nations panel monitoring sanctions against Liberia has said Taylor absconded with government money and has tried to loot revenue since he went into exile.

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