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Trouble with Taylor trial
By Gibson Jerue
Updated Apr 18, 2006 - 5:18:00 PM

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A street vendor sells a copy of the local newspaper in the streets of Freetown, Mar. 31. Toppled Liberian president Charles Taylor is being carefully guarded as he awaits trial on war crimes charges in an international court, the chief prosecutor said in a recent interview. Photo: AP/World Wide Photos
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (allafrica.com) - Liberian ex-president Charles Taylor prefers to be tried in Freetown rather than The Hague in the Netherlands, his four-man defense team told the Special Court Apr. 3.

“He wants to be tried in Sierra Leone and nowhere else,” said his principal defense counsel, Vincent Nmehielle of Nigeria.

Mr. Taylor, who made a debut appearance before the special court Apr. 3 to plead on an 11-count indictment of war crimes and crimes against humanity charges brought against him reportedly told his lawyers that even though he feared for his safety in Sierra Leone, he wanted to be tried in the region, in part because it would be easier for defense witnesses to appear. The reason for his decision, according to the lawyers, is that Freetown represented the lesser of two evils.

While Foday Sankoh died in the same cell now assigned him, the leader of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic, died recently in his cell while facing war crimes and crimes against humanity in The Hague. Mr. Taylor then requested that the court put in place a mechanism whereby his security would be assured.

“We consider our mission accomplished,” said Kofi Akainyah, a Ghanian member of the defense team even though the court is yet to rule on the new request that contradicts widespread security concerns of Taylor relatives and counsels, as well as the Government of Liberia.

Court chief prosecutor Desmond de Silva dismissed such concerns, insisting that Mr. Taylor has no reason to fear for his safety.

The announcement, which left most of the 100 spectators of the crowded courtroom flabbergasted, came shortly after preliminary court proceedings in which Mr. Taylor, having failed to convince the court that it lacked jurisdiction to try him, pleaded not guilty.

“Most definitely, your honor, I did not and could not have committed those acts against the sister republic of Sierra Leone. I think that this is an attempt to continue to divide and rule the people of Liberia and Sierra Leone and so, most definitely, I am not guilty,” Mr. Taylor said after Justice Richard Lussick read the charges against him.

The charges against him include murder, rape, sexual slavery, physical violence and cruel treatment, recruiting child soldiers and terrorizing the civilian population.

The chief prosecutor at the court describes the 58-year-old Taylor as one of the three worst war criminals in the world, alongside the Serbian fugitives Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic. According to him, Mr. Taylor provided the RUF leader Foday Sankoh with training, money, arms and ammunition to start his rebellion in Sierra Leone, and even lent him fighters to take part in the initial attack. He also alleged that the former president of Liberia shared a common plan with the rebel commanders to gain power and control over Sierra Leone, so he could gain access to its diamonds and have a government in Freetown that would support his aims, our correspondent says.

Security was tight at the Special Court in Sierra Leone, the country to which Mr. Taylor is accused of exporting his civil war. Court officials who received death threats and Mr. Taylor will be protected by bulletproof glass and dozens of UN peacekeepers from Mongolia and Ireland. The Rapid Response troops of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) of the Irish and Sweden forces, aided by their Mongolian counterparts, were posted around the main compound at New England and within the compound itself.

Some Sierra Leoneans harbor fears that the Taylor trial in Freetown may cause some security problems for the city and are therefore suggesting that he be taken to some other place, like The Hague to be tried there. But the Netherlands has reportedly set three conditions before the country can host the trial. The former Liberian president also told the court that he needs the moral support of his family members and relatives and requested the court to work out means to allow his family to visit him.

The leader of the defense team, Francis Garlawulo, questioned whether Mr. Taylor could receive a fair trial given intense publicity surrounding the case, saying in recent days images of Sierra Leoneans maimed by rebel fighters have dominated the world’s television screens.

One of his sisters, Louise Taylor Carter, said she does not believe he will receive a fair trial because “he has already been indicted, tried and sentenced in the papers and in the media.”


 


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