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Liberia's bogeyman


WHEN HE RESIGNED as Liberia's president Aug. 11 and exited his bleeding country, Charles Taylor pledged to return. That, unfortunately, was no empty threat. He now keeps running his homeland from an opulent Nigerian villa, barking orders on his cell phone to a network of enforcers.

"He is like a vampire," observes Jacques Klein, the United Nations' top representative for Liberia. "Until you drive a stake in his heart, he won't die."

Mr. Taylor's mischief must be stopped. If he is allowed to continue giving telephone orders to his military commanders and interim President Moses Blah, the Liberian peace process may derail even before the scheduled Oct. 14 installation of a new government.

Additionally, the lives of thousands of U.N. peacekeepers could be at risk.

Nigeria bears a heavy responsibility for seeing that this will not happen. It offered Mr. Taylor a temporary home; now it must make sure that Mr. Taylor adheres to the conditions of his asylum, which prohibit his meddling in Liberia or receiving anyone involved in political, illegal or government activities.

After Mr. Taylor openly ignored these restrictions, Nigeria's government this week issued a strongly worded warning. It must be ready to do more.

If Mr. Taylor keeps up violations, Nigeria ought to arrest Mr. Taylor and hand him over to U.N. authorities in Sierra Leone. They have indicted him for a wide variety of war crimes, ranging from plunder of diamonds to tolerating rapes and the recruiting of child soldiers.

Parochial concerns alone ought to propel Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo into action. His troops form the backbone of a peacekeeping force in Liberia. If Mr. Taylor's meddling produces renewed fighting, they would be vulnerable.

There are more fundamental reasons for President Obasanjo to take a hard line.

Although Nigeria does not have an extradition treaty with Sierra Leone, his protection of Mr. Taylor from a U.N. war crimes tribunal is highly questionable. True, other African presidents, wanting to create a precedent for the removal of a troublesome elected leader, participated in working out the arrangement that led to Mr. Taylor's asylum. But now that he has misused their trust, setting another precedent is in order.

President Bush decided against military involvement in Liberia, yet the United States has played a pivotal facilitator role in efforts to secure peace. That's why Washington, too, must insist that Mr. Taylor's brazen misbehavior is not tolerated.

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