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Former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who vanished in Nigeria after authorities reluctantly agreed to transfer him to a war crimes tribunal, was arrested trying to cross the border into Cameroon, Nigerian police said Wednesday.
He then was flown back to Liberia. Taylor was captured Tuesday night by security forces in the far northeastern border town of Gamboru, in Borno State, nearly 600 miles from the villa in southern Calabar from which he reportedly disappeared Monday night, Information Minister Frank Nweke said in a statement.
A plane carrying Taylor left from Maiduguri, capital of northwestern Borno state, for Liberia, a senior police official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Desmond de Silva, the top prosecutor at the U.N.-backed Sierra Leone war crimes tribunal that will try Taylor, told The Associated Press that U.N. forces in Liberia should then transfer Taylor to Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Taylor disappeared just days after Nigeria, which had granted him asylum under a 2003 agreement that helped end Liberia's 14-year civil war, bowed to pressure to surrender Taylor to face justice before a war crimes tribunal.
All 22 Nigerian police officers responsible for guarding Taylor have been arrested, the Nigerian government said Tuesday.
The admission that Taylor had slipped away came an hour before Obasanjo left Nigeria for Washington, where he was scheduled to meet with President Bush (website - news - bio) . The White House had suggested the meeting might be canceled if Nigeria's leader did not have some answers for Bush about Taylor's disappearance.
The U.N. Security Council also expressed its concern over Taylor's disappearance.
Nigeria had announced it would hand Taylor over to a U.N.-backed tribunal to be tried for alleged war crimes related to Sierra Leone's 1991-2001 civil war, but the government made no moves to arrest him before he disappeared.
Taylor, a one-time warlord and rebel leader, is charged with backing Sierra Leone rebels, including child fighters, who terrorized victims by chopping off their arms, legs, ears and lips. He would be the first African leader to face trial for crimes against humanity.
While the Sierra Leone tribunal's charges refer only to the war there, Taylor also has been accused of starting civil war in Liberia and of harboring al-Qaida (website - news) suicide bombers who attacked the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, killing more than 200 people.
Obasanjo initially resisted calls to surrender Taylor. But Saturday, after Liberia's new President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf asked that Taylor be handed over for trial, Obasanjo agreed.
On Wednesday, neither the Liberian government nor officials of the 15,000-troop U.N. peacekeeping force would comment on Taylor's arrest. But six white armored personnel carriers were seen driving toward the international airport outside the Liberian capital, Monrovia, apparently to stand by should Nigeria fly Taylor there.
Security officials in Liberia said they had arrested several Taylor supporters, allegedly for holding secret meetings to plot how Taylor could avoid standing trial.
Many of Taylor's loyalist soldiers are believed to be roaming freely in Liberia, Sierra Leone and civil-war divided Ivory Coast, from where Taylor launched his rebel incursion into Liberia on Dec. 24, 1989.
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