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Liberian testifies before tribunal

January 10, 2008|From the Associated Press

THE HAGUE — A former bodyguard for Charles Taylor gave an insider's view Wednesday of the former Liberian president's rule, testifying that he funneled arms, fighters, communications equipment and cash to rebels in Sierra Leone who were notorious for their brutality.

Varmuyan Sherif, 39, told the Special Court for Sierra Leone that he had served as a senior security officer for Taylor and his family after Taylor became president in 1997, and was responsible for his motorcade and protection on some of his foreign journeys.

Sherif was the first of nearly 60 witnesses from Taylor's inner circle whom the prosecution plans to call to support charges that Taylor, from his mansion in the Liberian capital, orchestrated atrocities during Sierra Leone's 10-year civil war.

Pointing to towns and routes on maps, Sherif detailed aid allegedly supplied by Taylor to Sierra Leonean rebel leader Sam Bockarie and his Revolutionary United Front, or RUF.

Taylor sent them truckloads of arms, urged Liberian rebels to join the front and gave Bockarie a satellite phone and cash, Sherif testified. Bockarie, meanwhile, smuggled diamonds into Liberia in a mayonnaise jar, he said.

Taylor brought 350 RUF fighters into a Liberian anti-terrorism unit run by his son, Chuckie, and provided the rebel group with a house in Monrovia, the capital, Sherif said.

Taylor, 59, is the first former African head of state tried by an international court. He has pleaded innocent to 11 charges linked to his alleged support of Sierra Leonean rebels.

Sherif said he once was taken to a radio room outside Bockarie's official residence in Sierra Leone where an operator immediately reached a secret communications center on the fifth floor of Taylor's mansion. It was clearly a well-established communication channel with the rebels across the border, he said.

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