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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Monday 8 March 2004

LIBERIA: Sierra Leonean war crimes investigators begin searching Taylor's properties

MONROVIA, 8 Mar 2004 (IRIN) - The UN-backed Special Court set up to try those considered most responsible for war crimes in Sierra Leone has begun carrying out investigations in Liberia: a team of investigators began searching residences of ex-president Charles Taylor on Friday.

The team, headed by Chief Investigator Allen White, met strong resistance on Friday, when they tried to enter a house in Congo Town, the south-eastern suburb of the capital, Monrovia, where Taylor lived until he was forced into exile in August last year, clearing the way for the signing of a peace deal.

Taylor loyalists initially said that they could not allow the investigators access as they had not been duly informed of the team's arrival.

"We can not allow you to enter this house. We are under instructions not to just allow anyone to enter this house. There are properties here and they must be protected," said Joseph Kollie, one of the supporters of the former president.

It took the intervention of UN peacekeeping forces and a delay of several hours before the investigators were able to gain access to the building.

Once let in, White and his team spent six hours at the property. White declined to make any comment to the journalists assembled outside, but one of Taylor's associates told IRIN on Monday that documentation had been taken from the house.

The Executive Mansion, where Taylor conducted affairs of state, will also be searched, as will Taylor's residence in his stronghold of Gbarnga, central Liberia, about 150 km from Monrovia.

The team is gathering evidence against Taylor, who has been indicted by the Sierra Leonean Special Court for war crimes in that country's ten-year civil war. Taylor is accused of supplying Sierra Leonean rebels with arms and munitions in return for diamonds.

White and his entourage arrived in Liberia mid-last week, after obtaining a special search warrant from the Monrovia City Magisterial Court through the intervention of the Liberian Ministry of Justice.

According to the search warrant, a copy of which was obtained by IRIN, the special team has been given authority to search the private residences of Taylor, a host of his cronies and some key institutions - most of them connected with shipping and trade.

Benoni Urey, the Commissioner of Maritime Affairs under Taylor, has been listed. The Bureau of Maritime Affairs, which he headed and the Liberia International Shipping and Corporate Registry will also be investigated. Both were closely controlled by Taylor.

Liberia has the world's number two shipping registry -after Panama - under the 'flags of convenience' system, which offers shipping companies cheap registration fees and 'easy rules'. The US-based shipping registry which Liberia has held since 1949 now lists more than 2,000 foreign vessels.

The Government of Liberia Tax office, the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment and a major hotel - Hotel Africa - are among others to be brought under the probing eye of the investigators.

Taylor is currently in exile in Nigeria. There have been no moves to date by the Nigerian authorities to hand him over to the Special Court in Sierra Leone.

Liberia is emerging from 14 years of almost continual civil war, but has no facility for trying war criminals, unlike neighbouring Sierra Leone.

The Pope's representative in Liberia, Archbishop Michael Francis called for the establishment of a war crimes tribunal for Liberia in a statement he issued on 27 February. He also said there was no place for former warlords in a "morally upright" government.

Several hold prominent positions in the broad-based transitional government led by businessman Gyude Bryant, which is due to lead Liberia to elections in October 2005.

[ENDS]



This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2004



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