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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Wednesday 17 March 2004

LIBERIA-SIERRA LEONE: Taylor's lawyers file petition against special court

MONROVIA, 16 Mar 2004 (IRIN) - Lawyers representing former Liberian president Charles Taylor said they had filed a petition with the Liberian Supreme Court on Tuesday against the Ministry of Justice and the UN-backed special court in Sierra Leone, which has indicted Taylor for war crimes.

Richard Flomo, acting in Taylor's defence, confirmed that a petition had been lodged which sought to block further searches of properties in Liberia that belong to Taylor, currently in exile in Nigeria.

The petition questions the legality of a Ministry of Justice decision to allow the Sierra Leonean Special Court to search the homes of the former president and his associates last week. Taylor's lawyers claim the Sierra Leonean court does not have the jurisdiction to carry our searches in Liberia.

Liberia's Ministry of Justice had asked the Monrovia City Magistrates Court last week to issue a search warrant to a team of investigators from Sierra Leone's Special Court. The court has levied charges of gunning running and diamond smuggling, among other things, against the former Liberian president.

Flomo, a former Interior Minister under Taylor and long-time associate of the former president, told journalists in Monrovia that his team believed the Special Court's jurisdiction did not extend beyond Sierra Leone's borders.

There was no official response to the petition from the Ministry of Justice on Tuesday. However, senior officials within the ministry suggested to IRIN that Liberia, as a signatory to international laws and treaties, needed to respect foreign courts and criminal proceedings.

Taylor was elected president of Liberia in 1997 after staging a bloody bush war to seize power. His time in office was marred by instability and warfare. His government also had links with the Revolutionary United Front rebel group in Sierra Leone.

In August 2003, international pressure and a two-pronged rebel campaign forced the former warlord to step down from office and seek refuge in Nigeria. This cleared the way for a peace agreement and the installation of a transitional government that is to oversee fresh elections in 2005.

Nigeria has so far resisted pressure to hand Taylor over for trial before the Special Court in Sierra Leone.

Nigerian General Abdulsalami Abubakar, the Economic Community of West African States' mediator for Liberia during peace talks last year, told journalists in Liberia on Tuesday that it was not fair to pressure the Nigerian government to hand over Taylor.

"I am not talking for Nigeria, but I think that it is unfair to put pressure on a country that put its neck on the line in order to bring peace to this country," the former Nigerian president said before boarding a plane out of Robertsfield international airport.


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