Last Updated on March 24, 2006 by Paulette Brown-Hinds

By Braden Ruddy

Mar. 20 (GIN) – Liberia has formally asked Nigeria to extradite former Liberian President Charles Taylor to face charges of massive war crimes.

A United Nations-backed war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone wants to put Taylor o­n trial for his role in backing rebels, trading in diamonds and arms, and other widespread human rights abuses.

Taylor relinquished his rule over Liberia and went into exile in Nigeria in 2003 under an international deal– partly brokered by the United States– to end Liberia’s 14-year civil war.

“President Obasanjo must promptly comply with the request for Taylor's surrender,” said Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo has previously refused requests to send Taylor to face trial in Sierra Leone, saying extradition could o­nly take place after a request was received by an elected Liberian leader.

President Johnson-Sirleaf was elected president last year and assumed power in January.

Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch, welcomed the news. “The people of Sierra Leone have waited a long time for justice, and today President Johnson-Sirleaf has taken a courageous step towards making sure they get it,” he said.

The Special Court of Sierra Leone has accused Taylor of 17-count charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity that include killings, mutilations, rape and other forms of sexual violence, sexual slavery, the recruitment and use of child soldiers, abduction, and the use of forced labor by Sierra Leonean armed opposition groups.

He is also accused of selling diamonds and buying large amounts of weapons for Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) during the 10-year civil war. RUF rebels routinely hacked off the limbs of civilians, child soldiers, and diamond miners during the war.

Taylor also began the Liberian civil war in 1989, prior to his presidential election in 1997.