ABUJA, Nigeria – Liberian warlord Charles Taylor has disappeared from his haven in Nigeria, just as he was to have been handed over to stand trial on war crimes charges, Nigerian officials said Tuesday.
Taylor vanished Monday night from his villa in the southern town of Calabar, the government said. Last week, Nigeria's government agreed reluctantly to surrender him to stand before a U.N. tribunal on charges related to civil war in his homeland and its neighbor Sierra Leone.
A government statement said that President Olusegun Obasanjo was creating a panel to investigate Taylor's disappearance on Monday night. The statement raised the possibility he might have been abducted, but did not elaborate.
A presidential spokeswoman said members of Taylor's Nigerian security detail had been arrested.
The presidential statement offered no details on how Taylor's disappearance was discovered or whether he was being hunted.
Nigeria's Guardian newspaper reported Tuesday that dozens of people who had been living with Taylor in the villa in a walled government compound had left Monday and were flying to Lagos en route to an unknown destination.
Obasanjo offered Taylor refuge under an agreement that helped end Liberia's civil war in 2003.
Since then, though, the United States, the United Nations and others have called for Taylor to be handed over to an international war crimes tribunal.
Taylor is accused of starting civil wars in Liberia and its neighbor, Sierra Leone, that killed some 3 million people, and of harboring Al Qaeda homicide bombers who attacked the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, killing 12 Americans and more than 200 Africans.
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.
African leaders have been reluctant to see the continent's former presidents or dictators brought to justice, apparently fearful they would be the next to be accused of human rights abuses or other crimes.
Since agreeing Saturday to hand Taylor over, Obasanjo had been under pressure to ensure Taylor was sent to the U.N. tribunal sitting in Sierra Leone. Taylor had escaped from a U.S. penitentiary in Boston to launch Liberia's war.
On Monday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States has told Obasanjo that it was Nigeria's responsibility to "see that he is able to be conveyed and face justice."