Taylor will tell court: 'I'm a peacemaker'

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The Independent Online

For one year, prosecution witnesses accused the former Liberian President Charles Taylor of atrocities that ranged from cannibalism to commanding Sierra Leone rebels who had hacked off villagers' limbs, and of selling weapons and ammunition in exchange for "blood diamonds".

Now Mr Taylor is giving his version of events at his trial before the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone.

"His case is that he was not involved," Mr Taylor's British lawyer, Courtenay Griffiths, said. "He was a peacemaker, not a warmonger."

Mr Griffiths will deliver his opening statement today and the former president will take the stand on Tuesday for what is expected to be weeks of testimony as he fights against 11 charges including murder, torture, rape, sexual slavery and spreading terror.

Prosecutors say that Mr Taylor commanded Sierra Leone rebels responsible for the atrocities from his base in the neighbouring West African nation of Liberia, where the former warlord was the elected President.

Mr Taylor, the first African head of state to be tried by an international court, has pleaded not guilty to all charges. He was forced into exile after being indicted in 2003 and was arrested in Nigeria in 2006. He was sent for trial in The Hague because officials feared staging the case in Sierra Leone could spark further violence.

Proceedings began in January 2008. Prosecutors called 91 witnesses, ranging from high-ranking members of Mr Taylor's inner circle to victims of atrocities. Witnesses testified about radio exchanges between Mr Taylor and the rebels and arms and diamonds smuggled between Liberia and Sierra Leone. One former aide said he saw Mr Taylor eat a human liver.

"We say and have said all along that they are lying," Mr Griffiths said of the prosecution witnesses.

About 500,000 people are believed to have been the victims of killings, mutilation and other atrocities during Sierra Leone's 1991-2002 civil war.