A resolution adopted unanimously by the 15-nation council on Friday asked Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, to help with legal and practical arrangements to move Taylor from the court in Sierra Leone where he is currently being held.

He faces 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for backing Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front rebels, who sent drugged child soldiers into battle and mutilated and raped civilians in the country's 1991-2002 civil war.

Peter Andersen, spokesman for the UN backed Special Court in Freetown, said: "It's a matter now partly of legal issues and partly of logistics. It's not as easy as just calling in an airplane and saying we have a passenger for you.

"It could happen fairly soon. We do not want to talk about the exact timing, but it will not be a matter of months."

Britain drafted the UN resolution after promising on Thursday to jail Taylor if he is found guilty.

The Freetown tribunal had asked the Netherlands to host the case at the International Criminal Court because of security concerns but needed a third country to volunteer as his jailer.

Plans welcomed

Sierra Leone's government welcomed the plans to transfer Taylor, saying removing him from West Africa would improve security in the region, with both the former British colony and neighbouring Liberia still fragile after years of conflict.

"As a government we are grateful to Britain, the people of the Netherlands and the secretary-general of the United Nations... With Charles Taylor to be tried outside Sierra Leone it will help the government to concentrate on other areas of security"

Solomon Berewa
Deputy president, Sierra Leone

Solomon Berewa, Sierra Leone's deputy president, said "Taylor's continued stay in Sierra Leone is a continued threat to the peace of Sierra Leone as well as the West African region".

"As a government we are grateful to Britain, the people of the Netherlands and the secretary-general of the United Nations... With Charles Taylor to be tried outside Sierra Leone it will help the government to concentrate on other areas of security."

Taylor, seen as the mastermind behind intertwined conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone, is being held in a prison cell guarded by Mongolian UN peacekeepers, nestled among the rolling, shanty-covered hills of Freetown.

Concern

Some in Sierra Leone have voiced concern that moving his trial to Europe will mean those who suffered in the war will not see justice being served first hand.

Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement that "victims of atrocities in Sierra Leone have long waited for Charles Taylor to face trial".

"Security concerns may well merit moving the trial to The Hague, but the Special Court needs to explain this more fully to the people of West Africa."

The court, which already runs an "outreach" programme that includes sending video and audio summaries of proceedings around the country, said it was discussing the possibility of streaming the trial live by television back to the Freetown court.