Update: They got him. And now he’s in Sierra Leone being guarded by UN-helmeted Mongolians. And we all know, you don’t want to mess with the Mongolians…
Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf knew she was taking a risk when she called on Nigeria to hand former Liberian strongman Charles Taylor over to a war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone. Many of the parliamentarians she needs to work with in her government supported Taylor, and her call for justice was bound to be popular with international donors, but unpopular with some of her countrymen.
Turns out that may have been the wrong risk to worry about. Flight risk? Now that’s something to worry about.
Taylor had been living in a luxurious mansion in Calabar, a city in Southeastern Nigeria known as Nigeria’s top tourist attraction. Calabar has both an international airport and a seaport – Reuters Alertnet speculates that Taylor may have escaped by sea, using the immense wealth he stole from the Liberia during his rule to set up residence elsewhere. Saharareporters.com speculates that he may be making his way to Harare, where Robert Mugabe might be willing to protect him from extradition.
The Nigerian government has set up a committee to report on Taylor’s dissapearance – they are charged with presenting a report on what happened within two weeks… by which point Taylor should be good and properly hidden away and almost impossible to find. (Think “where’s Waldo?”, but with an entire planet to search…) The men assigned to guard him have been arrested, reports the BBC.
Desmond de Silva, the prosecutor for the Sierra Leone war crimes tribunal does get credit for the urgent warning he put out on Sunday: “The watching world will wish to see Taylor held in Nigerian detention to avoid the possibility of him using his wealth and associates to slip away, with grave consequences to the stability of the region.”
It’s not the first time Charles Taylor has escaped from a Liberian arrest warrant. In 1985, after falling out of favor with strongman Samuel Doe, he was detained in the US, then escaped from the Plymouth County House of Correction in Massachusetts – some argue that he sawed through the bars with the help of four petty criminals; others speculate that the Reagan administration helped free him as a sign of their dissatisfaction with the Doe regime.
Slobodon Lekic, writing for the AP, wonders why some dictators escape justice. Perhaps some dictators are just more slippery than others…