MONROVIA, Liberia - – President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said her country does not need to prosecute former president Charles Taylor because he is already being tried by a U.N.-backed court for his role in atrocities committed in neighboring Sierra Leone.
Sirleaf has said that she is more focused on moving Liberia forward than on punishing the rebel leader who launched a bloody insurgency in 1989. She said Monday that the Sierra Leone charges could stand in for any that could be levied in Liberia.
"He doesn't need to be tried here," Sirleaf said in an interview with The Associated Press. "Let him go through the due process that has already charged him on so many counts."
Sirleaf, Africa's first female president, has been seen as a reformer and peacemaker in Liberia since she took office one year ago.
But some in the international community have criticized her for being slow to ask for Taylor to be extradited last year from Nigeria — where he was in exile — to Sierra Leone, where he was charged with backing rebels who burned villages, hacked off people's limbs and raped women systematically during that country's brutal decade-long war.
Taylor's trial by the Sierra Leone Special Court is scheduled for later this year in The Hague, Netherlands. He has pleaded not guilty.
Taylor's fighters have been accused of similar acts in his homeland but Liberia has made no move yet to try its former president. After taking control by force, Taylor won elections that handed him the presidency in 1997.
Rebels took up arms against him three years later, and Taylor fled to Nigeria in 2003. Last March, he was captured as he tried to slip out of Nigeria after it agreed to hand him over to authorities seeking his prosecution.
"Don't forget that our war was regional, you know, so if you get charged in Sierra Leone, chances are the war was part of the same Liberian war," Sirleaf said in an interview at her office in the capital, Monrovia.
"If you get charged there, you get judged guilty or acquitted there," she said. "It has the same kind of implication and ramifications for the other countries that were involved in this cross-border war."
Liberia has set up a countrywide Truth and Reconciliation Commission to compile testimony by both victims and perpetrators in the West African country's 14-year civil war and that group may eventually make recommendations to the government to try certain serious offenders.
"If that process leads to those whose rights have been infringed upon insisting on judgment through due process, then the (commission) will insist on that and due process will take place," Sirleaf said.