Taylor's request for war crimes acquittal rejected

Judges at the Special Court for Sierra Leone ruled today against a defence request to acquit former Liberian President Charles Taylor on war crimes' charges.

The defence's case will start on June 29, they said.

"The prosecution has produced evidence capable of supporting a conviction of the accused ... based on his participation in a joint criminal enterprise," judge Richard Lussick said.

But Lussick stressed the ruling did not mean that Taylor would be convicted.

Taylor, 61, has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts involving murder, rape, conscripting child soldiers and sexual slavery during the intertwined wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone in which more than 250,000 people were killed.

Defence lawyers said in April he should be acquitted because there was no evidence he planned or instigated atrocities in Sierra Leone. Prosecutors say he directed the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in a campaign of terror against civilians.

The prosecution closed its case in February and a request for acquittal before the start of the defence's case is considered common in international tribunals.

The court rejected a request from defence counsel Courtenay Griffiths to set a date of at least mid-July for the start of the defence's case.

"Our resources are currently stretched to its very limits," Griffiths had told the court.

He said he would be in West Africa with most of the defence team until the end of May and unable to spend time with Taylor, expected to be the first defence witness, to prepare him for his testimony.

Taylor has been on trial in The Hague since June 2007 at facilities provided by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Prosecutors say he sought to control Sierra Leone's diamond mines and destabilise its government to boost his regional influence.

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