Hague court opens trial against Liberia ex-ruler

By RIA Novosti

The Hague : The Special Court for Sierra Leone in the Hague opened Monday hearings in the trial against former Liberian President Charles Taylor accused of war crimes during the 1991-2002 military conflict in the region.

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Taylor, 59, who fought as a warlord in the Liberian civil war in the early 1990s before becoming president, is facing 11 charges, including mass murder, rape, mutilation, and recruiting child soldiers

The former African leader, who was deposed in 2003 under a peace deal ending the conflict, is also implicated in the killing of up to 200,000 civilians in Sierra Leone, notably through his support for a campaign of terror unleashed by a brutal local guerilla group, the Revolutionary United Front.

Taylor fled to Nigeria after being ousted, but was arrested on an international warrant and deported to Sierra Leone in March 2006. He has been held at a detention center in The Hague since June 2006.

The former ruler, who has pleaded not guilty to all charges, said earlier that he doubted the Special Court for Sierra Leone, set up in the capital Freetown in 2002, could ensure a fair trial for him. Amid security concerns, the trial was moved to the International Criminal Court in The Hague last year, but hearings are still being conducted under the auspices of the Freetown court.

The prosecution has called a total of 144 witnesses for the current trial. The identities of many witnesses will not be revealed on fears of possible life threats against them from Taylor’s accomplices and supporters.

The court may announce the verdict against the former Liberian ruler by the end of 2009.