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UN-backed Sierra Leone court calls on Liberian leader to turn over fugitives

UN-backed Sierra Leone court calls on Liberian leader to turn over fugitives

Citing strong evidence that two fugitives indicted for wartime atrocities are hiding out in Liberia, the chief prosecutor for the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone has said that any credibility Liberian President Charles Taylor has left is riding on his promise to arrest and surrender the former rebel commanders.

"Sam Bokarie and Johnny Paul Koroma are international fugitives hiding in Liberia," David M. Crane, the Court's Prosecutor said in Freetown yesterday. "I expect Mr. Taylor to fulfil his international obligations and immediately release these war criminals to the Court. Any credibility he still has with the international community is now linked to this promise."

Mr. Crane offered specific, up-to-the minute details regarding the whereabouts of the fugitives for Liberian authorities in the wake of reports late last week that Monrovia had no information on the two, and that President Taylor was committed to ridding the sub-region of violent non-state actors.

Mr. Crane said the Court had "credible information" that, as of Sunday morning, Mr. Koroma was in the Foya Kamala area in Liberia's Lofa County, and that Mr. Bokarie is in Kahnple, a small village in Nimba County.

The two former rebel commanders were indicted along with five other suspects implicated in a decade's worth of human rights violations during Sierra Leone's brutal civil war. All had connections to the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), and now face charges ranging from murder and sexual slavery, to forced conscription of children and attacks on UN peacekeepers. Only Mr. Koroma and Mr. Bokarie remain at large.

According to Alan White, the Court's Chief of Investigations, Mr. Koroma is allegedly commanding a new, heavily-armed unit of perhaps 3,000 former RUF militia, set up by President Taylor. The arms have come from outside the country, in spite of the UN arms embargo. Mr. Bokarie is also said to be accompanied by an RUF contingent.

"I call on all West African nations, and others genuinely interested in peace and stability for the region to seize, arrest and surrender these individuals to the Court," Mr. Crane said, adding that there could be no peace in West Africa until this was done. "There can be no hiding place for them. They must be brought to justice."