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Nigeria tough on Taylor, Mugabe

OTA, Nigeria -- This West African nation's influential president set tough terms yesterday for two African pariahs, pledging to "persuade" indicted war criminal Charles Taylor to surrender for trial if Liberia asks and to bar Zimbabwe's president from an international summit.

Olusegun Obasanjo's comments came in a rare interview. He has strongly resisted US congressional pressure to turn Taylor, the outsted Liberian president, over for prosecution on a UN-backed indictment for war crimes. A former warlord blamed in much of the recent bloodshed in West Africa, Taylor has lived in exile in southern Nigeria since August, when he fled under international pressure and a rebel siege.

The Liberian government that succeeded Taylor has not said it wants to put him on trial. However, if the Liberian government decides it wants Taylor to face charges at home, "then I believe he will understand sufficiently the need to go home," Obasanjo said. Asked what he would do if Taylor resisted, Obasanjo responded, "I would persuade him."

Obasanjo also ruled out Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's attendance at a summit of heads of state of the British Commonwealth in Nigeria. Mugabe has said he expects to attend -- heightening the threat of a boycott by Queen Elizabeth II and the leaders of Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Pacific nations. Zimbabwe was suspended by the Commonwealth after Mugabe's disputed 2002 reelection.

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