Liberia chaos as leader returns

© BBC International

Taylor: Former warlord turned president is facing a rebellion Fears of a violent power struggle following the indictment of President Charles Taylor of Liberia by a United Nations-backed war crimes tribunal have caused panic in the capital, Monrovia.

The BBC's Jonathan Paye-Layleh, reporting from Monrovia, says there is absolute chaos with people fleeing the city in their thousands and troops taking to the streets.

Frantic parents searched for lost children in what at times became stampeding crowds.

The indictment accuses President Taylor of crimes against humanity over his alleged backing of rebels in the brutal 10-year-long civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone which ended in 2002.

Drawn up in secret

Prosecutors called on Ghana to arrest Mr Taylor - where the Liberian leader was on a rare trip on Wednesday - but this was not heeded and he flew back to Monrovia shortly afterwards.

He had been attending peace talks with Liberian rebels in Ghana.

The BBC's West Africa correspondent, Paul Welsh, says the indictment was drawn up secretly three months ago, and prosecutors timed the announcement of the charges of war crimes carefully to coincide with Charles Taylor's trip out of his own country.

But instead of arresting President Taylor, the government flew him home in one of their own official jets.

Ghanaian foreign minister Nano Akufo-Addo said the government had not received a formal request to extradite him.

Diplomats in Ghana say they believe that the government decided the future of the Liberian peace talks was more important than trying the Liberian president.

Military broadcast

A warrant for his arrest was served on the Ghanaian authorities and sent to Interpol, said the court's chief prosecutor, David Crane.

Liberians have been anxious to hear news of the president

"The timing of this announcement was carefully considered in the light of the important peace process begun this week... It is imperative that the attendees know they are dealing with an indicted war criminal," he said.

Before President Taylor's arrival back in Liberia a radio broadcast by General Benjamin Yeaten told members of the armed forces to withdraw from Monrovia and return to their barracks.

Security forces were seen driving about the city in jeeps mounted with machine guns.

A feared paramilitary group known as the anti-terrorist unit, loyal to President Taylor, took up positions around the presidential mansion with machine guns and rocket launchers.

His security forces are notoriously ill-disciplined, and accused by rights groups of repeated attacks on civilians.

At the peace talks, Mr Taylor said that he was ready to form a national unity government immediately, without necessarily taking part himself.

Thursday, 5 June, 2003, 00:54 GMT 01:54 UK

added by: Robert W. Kranz  09-06-2003