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Taylor Arraigned in Sierra Leone Court

The former Liberian president rejects charges of responsibility for war crimes in the adjacent nation. He resists a move to change trial location.

April 04, 2006|From the Associated Press

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone — The man who once was Africa's most feared warlord listened impassively to a litany of horrors couched in dispassionate legal language: the severing of limbs and other body parts, rape, abduction, sexual slavery, pillaging and conscription of boys and girls.

Then Charles Taylor, whose war to rule Liberia dragged in nations across West Africa, firmly told a war tribunal: "I did not and could not have committed these acts."

The judge accepted that as a not-guilty plea, officially arraigning the first African former president to be brought before a human rights tribunal. As the hourlong hearing ended, Taylor stood and smiled and blew kisses to relatives.

Taylor's appearance -- three years after he was indicted and a week after he tried to escape extradition from Nigeria -- forced him "to face the people of Sierra Leone, against whom he is accused of committing heinous atrocities," the court's chief prosecutor, Desmond de Silva, said in a statement Monday.

Taylor's defense lawyer asked that the case remain at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, established by the government and the United Nations to try those responsible for atrocities during the country's 1991-2002 civil war.

Court officials have asked that the trial be moved to an international tribunal at The Hague, in the Netherlands, because of fears the 58-year-old Taylor could still destabilize West Africa.

Taylor said through his lawyer that he feared for his safety in Sierra Leone but wanted to be tried in the region, in part because it would be easier for defense witnesses to testify. The court's chief prosecutor has said Taylor has no reason to fear for his safety.

No date has been set for the trial.

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