The only time Taylor spoke during the hearing was to plead not guilty to a slightly amended charge of sexual slavery, a crime against humanity, covering the abduction, rape and the use of women and girls as sex slaves.

Prosecution postponed

The prosecution case against Taylor was due to start on Tuesday but will now begin on August 20th to allow a proper defence team to be formed.

"To compel duty counsel to represent the accused during this one week without affording him adequate administrative support or time to prepare... would be a violation of Mr Taylor's fair trial rights in so far as counsel would not be able to effectively cross examine witnesses or challenge witnesses," Julia Sebutinde, presiding judge, said.

Sebutinde said the court's registry had not appointing new defence lawyers in time for the trial to start on its original date and said Taylor "should not be penalised for the laxity of the registry."

Taylor did not appear at the opening of his trial before the tribunal three weeks ago and sacked his lawyer, saying he had no chance of receiving a fair hearing.

More funds

After Taylor did not turn up last week, the judges ordered that a new defence team be put together.

The judges also ordered the court's registry to allocate more funds for Taylor's defence. He has argued that he does not have enough money for the kind of specialist lawyers needed to try such a long and complicated case.

Up to 200,000 people were killed in the Sierra Leone conflict, with rebels mutilating thousands more.

Taylor allegedly armed, trained and controlled the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), responsible for many of the mutilations, in exchange for diamonds used to fund warfare.

Taylor, who was president of Liberia from August 1997 to August 2003, has denied all the charges.