The trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, the first African leader to face an international war crimes tribunal, resumed Monday in The Hague. His case was postponed last June after President Taylor fired his original legal team and demanded more money for his defense.
Taylor is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity in neighboring Sierra Leone, where he is accused of arming a rebel army who supplied diamonds and timber in return. He has denied responsibility for the actions of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which became notorious during a decade-long war for a wave of brutal killings, rapes, and mutilations. The UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone was created after the war ended in 2001.
The Canadian Press says the prosecution will seek to tie Taylor to wartime atrocities committed in Sierra Leone by his proxy forces. He faces 11 charges that include murder, rape, enslavement and the conscription of child soldiers. Nearly 60 witnesses are being called on to testify on Taylor's link to the militias, most anonymously for fear of reprisals, said the Canadian Press.
The British Broadcasting Corp. says an expert on so-called "blood diamonds" from conflict zones in Africa will take the stand Monday. The trial, which is expected to run for two years, was relocated to the Dutch capital from Sierra Leone due to fears that Taylor's presence would stir unrest there.
By increasing the budget for Taylor's defense, the court has taken on a greater financial burden, reports The Times (London). But it is a signal to former supporters in Liberia and Sierra Leone that Taylor will receive a fair trial in The Hague.
The conflict in Sierra Leone began in 1991 when rebel RUF forces seized towns near the border with Liberia, reports Reuters. Other forces joined the fighting, which caused an estimated 50,000 deaths in a population of 6 million.
In a profile of Taylor, Der Spiegel reports that the former president amassed millions of dollars trading blood diamonds and "rained death and terror" across West Africa. A former lay preacher, Taylor first took up arms in Liberia in the late 1980s and later became president for six years before fleeing into exile in 2003.
Reuters also reports from Liberia's capital Monrovia that Taylor's supporters held a church service Sunday in support of the former president. A preacher said his trial was part of an international conspiracy against a "child of God."
All-Africa.com reports that many Liberians appear uninterested in the legal drama under way in The Hague, despite the immense sway Taylor held over his country. Some observers argue that Liberians are quick to forget the past and focus on daily hardships. Only a few media outlets have carried the story, while the Liberian government has expressed its hope that Taylor will get a fair trial.