Witnesses Wait for Day in Court at War Crimes Trial

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor again boycotted a court in The Hague that has charged him with orchestrating a murderous terrorism campaign in Sierra Leone, prompting the judge to delay the proceedings until next week.

Taylor has pleaded not guilty to 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for allegedly arming Sierra Leone rebels and directing the terrorism campaign they waged during their country's civil war that ended in 2002.

The war was notorious for drugged child soldiers toting automatic weapons and hacking off hands and limbs of their enemies.

On Thursday, three Sierra Leonean militia leaders, accused of having worked in concert with Taylor, were found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Bakary Stephens fled to Britain from Sierra Leone after a litany of atrocities during the civil war in the 1990s. He spoke to reporters after last week's guilty verdicts, reminding people of the horrors of the conflict.

"My stepmother was brutally murdered when the rebels attacked the village," Stephens said. "My niece was killed right in front of the mum. She was raped right in front of the mum. Hundreds of my relatives suffered."

Taylor is alleged to have trained and financed Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front, or RUF, in exchange for so-called "blood diamonds" from across Liberia's border. For his alleged role in the conflict, Taylor faces a string of war crimes charges that include mass murder, sexual slavery, mutilating civilians and conscripting child soldiers.

His trial opened with high drama in The Hague on June 4, with Taylor boycotting the proceedings. His statement to the Sierra Leone War Crimes Court was read aloud by his defense lawyer at the time, Karim Khan. It outlined why his client refused to attend.

The statement said Taylor would not "participate in a charade that does injustice to the people of Sierra Leone and Liberia and the people of Africa. ... I choose not to be a fig-leaf of legitimacy for this process."

Taylor's defense team listed a catalog of complaints, saying it had been given neither the time nor the resources to prepare its case properly.

The former Liberian leader concluded that he would not receive a fair trial. After delivering the statement, the defense lawyer prepared to leave the chamber, prompting an angry exchange between Khan and the presiding judge, Julia Sebutinde.

In his opening statement, the chief prosecutor, Stephen Rapp, said it was difficult to grasp the scale and nature of the crimes against humanity committed by the Sierra Leone rebels. Charles Taylor, argued the prosecution, backed them all the way.

"Human beings, young and old, mutilated, rebels chopping off arms and legs, gouging out eyes, chopping at ears. Girls and women enslaved and sexually violated. Children committing some of the most awful crimes. ... The very worst that human beings are capable of doing to one another."

Taylor's trial is being held in The Hague because of fears it could spur instability if held in Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown.

With additional reporting by The Associated Press.

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