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Taylor takes stand at trial
Liberian ex-president dismisses charges he backed rebels known for mutilating opponents.
Last Modified: 14 Jul 2009 07:59 GMT

Griffiths, left, Taylor's lawyer, told the court
Taylor was a 'broker of peace' [Reuters]

Charles Taylor, the former Liberian president, has taken the stand to defend himself against charges that he backed a Sierra Leone rebel group known for mutilating its opponents.

Taylor dismissed the charges against him at the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague on Tuesday.

Taylor has denied the 11 charges against him, which include murder, rape, and the conscription of child soldiers during Sierra Leone's 1991-2001 civil war, in which about 120,000 people were killed.

His lawyers began their defence on Monday at the court, which is conducting the trial at the request of the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

"We are here to defend a man who we say is innocent of all these charges," Courtenay Griffiths, Taylor's lawyer, told the court, adding that the prosecution case "is lacking in proof".

In depth
Profile: Charles Taylor
Video: Taylor brutality remembered

His lawyers argued that Taylor, the first African leader to be tried before an international tribunal for war crimes and crimes against humanity, tried to broker peace in Sierra Leone rather than fuel civil war.

"Taylor was not an African Napoleon bent on taking over the sub-region. He had a frontline role in the conflict as a broker of peace," Griffiths told the court.

He added that the former president will say: "How could I have been micromanaging a conflict in Sierra Leone as alleged when I, as newly elected president of Liberia, had so much on my plate?"

Stephen Rapp, a chief prosecutor at the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, has insisted that Taylor was "an exceptional violator of human rights".

Rapp told Al Jazeera: "It's alleged that he is responsible. When you charge leaders with crimes, you are not saying that they were down there chopping off hands themselves ... you are saying that they put the forces out there and that they intended, or could foresee, what was going to occur."

'Arming rebels'

Prosecutors, who closed their case in February, said Taylor armed and supported the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), a rebel movement that sought to destabilise the government, and attempted to gain control of Sierra Leone's diamond mines.

"We were very pleased by the testimony that was presented and the breadth and strength of it," Rapp said.

Taylor contends that he is innocent
of all charges [EPA]
Taylor has been on trial at The Hague in the Netherlands since June 2007 at facilities provided by the International Criminal Court.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone is headquartered in Freetown, the Sierra Leone capital, but the trial is taking place in the Netherlands due to concerns it may trigger violence in Sierra Leone.

In May, judges at the Special Court for Sierra Leone ruled against a defence request to acquit Taylor of war crimes charges, saying the prosecution had produced enough evidence supporting a conviction.

However, Judge Richard Lussick has stressed that the ruling does not mean Taylor would be convicted.

Taylor is the first former African head of state to be tried by an international court.

Source:
Agencies
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