Liberia’s soon-to-be-ousted President Charles Taylor not only is a fugitive in the eyes of the United Nations, but also in the United States.
Taylor, who has pledged to leave office when an international peace-keeping force arrives, spent the 1970s in Boston working in a plastic factory, pumping gas and earning a degree in economics from local Bentley College. He returned to Liberia in 1979 for a position in the government of then-Liberian President Samuel Doe.
Taylor became head of Liberia’s General Services Administration, but was charged with embezzling $1 million dollars. He then fled to Massachusetts where he was tracked and arrested by Interpol in Plymouth County.
On Sept. 15, 1985, after a year’s imprisonment, inmate Charles Taylor, with several fellow prisoners, cut through his cell bars with a hacksaw blade, and, with a knotted sheet, climbed down three stories to freedom.
Mike Seeley, spokesman for the Plymouth County Sheriff’s Department, says this particular escape is noteworthy.
“The other inmates were quickly recaptured in the following days,” he said. “Mr. Taylor was not however, and he remains the only person who has ever escaped from the Plymouth County jail who was never recaptured.”
Taylor took flight to Libya and Sierra Leone where he began his military training and on Christmas Eve of 1989, with a group of his guerilla fighters, failed in a coup to expel Doe from power.
When civil strife began in Liberia, 400 doctors practiced medicine for the population of 3.5 million; presently about 25 doctors provide the country with health care. The next 10 years would take the lives of at least 150,000 Liberians as well as Samuel Doe, who was captured and executed by rebels in 1990.
Critics say Taylor’s 1997 election was rigged, and he was elected to put an end to the brutal civil war that had plagued Liberia for more than seven years. In the past three years of conflict, 300,000 Liberian refugees have fled to Guinea, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone. The war has displaced nearly half of its now 2.7 million citizens.
Taylor’s exile in Nigeria is expected to exempt him from the U.N. war crimes against Sierra Leone for which he was indicted in June. The charges range from personally provoking rape, horror, brutal amputation and other various tortures in support of Sierra Leonean rebels and their civil war. Taylor vows that after the situation in Liberia “cools off” he will return.