For other people named Charles Taylor, see Charles Taylor (disambiguation)

Charles Ghankay Taylor (born January 28, 1948) was the President of Liberia from 1990 to 2003. He was born in Arthington, a city near Monrovia. His father was a Americo-Liberian, his mother was a member of the Gola tribe. Taylor was a university student in the United States from 1972-1977. He was briefly arrested in 1979 after threatening to take over the Liberian diplomatic mission in New York. He returned to Liberia in 1980.

President Taylor announces his resignation on Liberian TV

Taylor was appointed by President Samuel Doe to run the General Services Agency but was arrested in Massachusetts when Doe accused him of embezzeling almost US$ 1 million. He remained in prison from May 1984 to September 1985 while awaiting extradition. He escaped prison and is thought to have gone to Libya.

In 1989 Taylor launched an armed uprising from Ivory Coast. He came to power in 1990 after overthrowing and killing President Doe whose troops had been accused of civilian attrocities.

According to several news reports, Charles Taylor cut off Samuel Doe's ears and forced Doe to eat one of them while Taylor and his cronies pushed him through the streets of Liberia's capital, Monrovia.

Taylor's campaign turned into an ethnic conflict, with seven factions fighting for control of Liberia's resources (esp. iron ore, timber and rubber). Up to 200,000 people were killed and more than 1 million were forced from their homes.

Taylor's regime was legitimized when he became Liberia's president in a landslide poll victory in 1997. The vote may have been tainted by ballot-stuffing and intimidation of opponents.

As president, Taylor has been characterized as one of Africa's most authoritarian dictators. He has repeatedly supported wars in Liberia's neighbouring countries, and is alleged to be the center of a major diamond smuggling ring. A London Observer article called "Logs of War" tracked diamond smuggling from Sierra Leone through Liberia to Antwerp and linked this operation to Al Qaeda. A Global Witness report, "Taylor-made", in September 2001, backed these allegations.

He is surrounded by known criminals with outstanding warrants for their arrests in various countries. One of the most notorious is Gus Kouwenhoven, a former drug lord who now deals in trees and diamonds, and is the subject of a UN travel ban. Kouwenhoven runs Evergreen, by far the largest lumber company in Liberia, doing ten times more business than any other company, and having exclusive control over Buchanan, one of the two main ports of the country. Evergreen even has its own militia. Its own plans for its future in Liberia state that they expect to be "finished" in five to eight years. This is widely understood to mean deforestation and extinction of forest species on a nation-wide scale. Less than 10% of lumber revenues go to the people of Liberia - the rest goes to Gus and Charles. France and China buy the logs of species banned for export - Greenpeace blockaded one such shipment in 2002.

Recent Events

In June of 2003 a United Nations justice tribunal issued a warrant for the President's arrest, charging him with war crimes. The UN asserts that Taylor created and backed the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group in Sierra Leone, which is held responsible for a range of deliberate attrocities including the use of child soldiers.

Taylor is also accused of having been trained in guerrilla warfare in a training camp run by Moammar Al Qadhafi and al-Qaeda.

The indictment was issued at Taylor's official visit to Ghana. With the backing of South African president Thabo Mbeki, against the urging of Sierra Leone president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, Ghanaian police failed to arrest Taylor who returned to Monrovia.

Officials of the UN-backed War Crimes Court for Sierra Leone have been outraged at the inability of Ghanaian authorities to arrest an indicted criminal.

Back in Monrovia, Taylor met with a failed foreign-backed coup attempt, as well as rebel armies closing in on the capital city. The rebel group Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) has battled Taylor since 1999.

Twice in July 2003, U.S. President George W. Bush stated that Taylor "must leave Liberia." This was similar to an ultimatum issued earlier in that same year to Saddam Hussein, which had presaged the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Taylor insisted that he would step down only if American peacekeeping troops were deployed to Liberia. The neighbouring nation of Nigeria also deployed dozens of troops to the country, and Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo promised to offer President Taylor safe exile in his country. On August 6, less than a dozen US Marines were deployed as a liaison with the peacekeepers.

On August 10, Charles Taylor went on national television in Liberia and announced he would step down the following day, handing power over to the nation's vice president, Moses Blah. He sharply denounced the United States in his farewell adress, saying the Bush adminsitration's insistance that he leave the country was a foolish policy that would hurt Liberia.

On August 11, Taylor stepped down, leaving Vice-president Moses Blah in charge. At the handover were Ghanaian President John Kufuor, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and Mozambican leader Joaquim Chissano, representing African regional councils. The U.S. brought three warships with 2300 Marines into view of the coast. Taylor flew to Nigeria where the Nigerian government provided houses for him and his entourage.

On December 4, Interpol issued a "red notice", suggesting that countries have the international right to arrest him. Taylor is now on Interpol's Most Wanted list, noted as possibly being dangerous, and is wanted for "crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions." However, Nigeria, which is currently holding Taylor, has stated that it will not submit to Interpol's demands, unless Liberia wants to try him; if so, Nigeria will return Taylor to Liberia for a fair trial.