Taylor's Sierra Leone war crimes trial ends

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The Independent Online

The war crimes trial of the former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, ended yesterday with judges expected to take months to reach a verdict on whether he can be linked to murders and amputations during Sierra Leone's civil war.

In their final remarks, prosecutors cautioned the judges against being taken in by Mr Taylor, "an intelligent and charismatic man" who portrayed himself during the three-year trial as a statesman and peacemaker rather than a warlord who used a surrogate army to pillage a nation.

The defence concluded by denying prosecution claims that Mr Taylor was part of a criminal conspiracy with rebel leaders seizing power in neighbouring Sierra Leone, providing them with weapons and support in exchange for diamonds illegally mined by slave labour. A verdict was expected in four or five months, Mr Taylor's attorney said. Mr Taylor, the first African head of state to be tried by an international court, faces a maximum life sentence if convicted.

The three judges of the Special Court for Sierra Leone must consider tens of thousands of pages of evidence, more than 1,000 documents and exhibits, and the testimony from more than 120 victims, former rebels and from Mr Taylor himself, who was on the stand for seven months. Mr Taylor has pleaded innocent to 11 counts of murder, rape, pillaging and deploying child soldiers.

Mr Taylor was indicted in March 2003 while he was still president of Liberia. His trial began in June 2007, but Mr Taylor initially boycotted the proceedings and fired his first lawyer, claiming he did not have enough time or money to prepare his defence.