The opposition party in Liberia, where elections are being held today, said it would welcome back former warlord Charles Taylor if he is acquitted of war crimes in an international criminal court.
Winston Tubman, who is challenging Nobel prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for the presidency, told the U.K.'s Independent newspaper that since Taylor is a Liberian citizen, he would be allowed to return to Liberia if Tubman wins the election. Taylor, who was president of Liberia from 1997 to 2003, is being prosecuted on charges of war crimes, including using blood diamonds to buy weapons for rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone, where a civil war cost thousands of lives. His ex-wife, Jewel Howard Taylor, is a member of Tubman's political party.
Incumbent president Sirleaf won a share of the Nobel Peace Prize just last week, but local observers give Tubman and his running mate George Weah, a former international soccer star, a real chance at denying Sirleaf a clear victory in the first round of voting today, forcing a run off on November 8. Fourteen other candidates are also vying for the post, including Prince Johnson, infamous for presiding over the videotaped mutilation and execution of ex-Liberian dictator Samuel Doe while drinking a beer.
Taylor has been on trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone in the Hague since 2006. A verdict has been expected in the case but has not yet been entered, leading to speculation in Liberia that it had been delayed because of the election. Peter Andersen, a spokesman for the court, told ABC News that the timing of the verdict had "nothing to do" with the Liberian elections. "It has more to do with the 50,000+ pages of trial transcripts and around 1,100 exhibits in this very complex case."
Andersen said a verdict had been expected this month, but "since we have not received the promised one-month notice I suspect it will not be October." Andersen declined to comment on the Independent's report that Tubman would allow Taylor to return.
Taylor, 63, stands accused of 11 counts of war crimes, including acting with or directing militant groups in Sierra Leone who used child soldiers and committed acts of murder, rape and sexual slavery, as well as using illegal "blood diamonds" to fund the Sierra Leone rebels.
In closing arguments in March, Taylor's defense attorney Courtenay Griffiths did not deny the atrocities took place, but argued that there was no proof directly linking Taylor to the crimes.
Griffiths argued instead that the trial was politically motivated, evidenced by the fact that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was not brought to trial, despite allegations he too supported some of the same rebel groups, because of British economic interests in Libya.
"This was a court, ostensibly and publicly, set up, we are told, to try those who bear the greatest responsibility," Griffiths told the court. "So why is Colonel Moammar Gadhafi not in the dock?"
Griffiths also said that the trial had gone relatively unnoticed until supermodel Naomi Campbell and Hollywood actress Mia Farrow became involved.
Campbell was subpoenaed by the international tribunal following an ABC News report about allegations that Taylor had given her uncut "blood diamonds" on a trip to South Africa.