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Grisly video offered in war crimes trial

January 08, 2008|From Times Wire Services

THE HAGUE — A "blood diamond" expert offered the first testimony in the war crimes trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor on Monday, and a Sierra Leone miner said in videotaped evidence that laughing rebels hacked off his hands and burned his family.

The trial before the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, set up to try those behind the 1991-2002 civil war, resumed after a six-month adjournment that began in June when Taylor boycotted proceedings and fired his lawyer.

Taylor blew a kiss to supporters as his new lawyers challenged the prosecution to prove that he was behind the war's widespread murder, rape and amputations.

The former president faces charges of rape, murder, mutilation and recruitment of child soldiers. He is accused of trying to gain control of the mineral wealth of Sierra Leone and of seeking to destabilize its government by supplying the Revolutionary United Front rebels.

Prosecutors allege that diamonds mined in Sierra Leone were smuggled through neighboring Liberia and that Taylor, 59, used the profits to arm the rebels. He has pleaded not guilty.

The opening witness was Ian Smillie, a Canadian expert on conflict diamonds. Smillie interviewed Taylor as part of a United Nations team that investigated arms smuggling in Liberia in 2000. In that interview, Taylor acknowledged that diamonds from Sierra Leone probably were being smuggled into and out of Liberia, but denied involvement.

However, Smillie said he stood by the findings of his team's report, which was included in a 2001 U.N. Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on Taylor's regime.

The resolution said that diamonds smuggled through Liberia were the key source of rebel income "and that such illicit trade cannot be conducted without the permission and involvement of Liberian government officials at the highest levels."

Fleeting video images of maimed victims cast a grim shadow over the courtroom: a woman who said she was sexually assaulted with a stick and then saw her husband staggering out of the jungle with blood spurting from the stumps of his arms; a boy who described being kidnapped and forced to mine diamonds; a man with no hands who said rebels burned his house with his wife and children inside.

Taylor's attorneys objected to the videos and the portrayal of Smillie as an expert on Sierra Leone. The three judges said Smillie would not testify about atrocities and that they would rule later on admitting the videos.

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