Archive for Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Former Liberian leader sent for war crimes trial

June 21, 2006


— Former Liberian President Charles Taylor was taken to a Dutch prison on Tuesday to await a U.N. war crimes trial for the killing, rape or mutilation of hundreds of thousands in West Africa.

Taylor - the second sitting head of state to be indicted for war crimes - came to Rotterdam aboard a U.N.-chartered plane from Sierra Leone, where he had been in custody since March 29. His hands cuffed in front of him, he was whisked away in a black Mercedes van flanked by five uniformed police motorcyclists.

Taylor faces charges stemming from his alleged backing of Sierra Leonean rebels, who terrorized victims by chopping off their arms, legs, ears and lips during that country's 1991-2002 civil war. He also has been linked to violence in Liberia and elsewhere in West Africa.

The prosecutor who drafted Taylor's indictment hailed his arrival in the Netherlands as a great day for victims and survivors of Sierra Leone's conflict.

"This is for and about the people of West Africa," David Crane, the former prosecutor at the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, told The Associated Press. "For them to see Charles Taylor - who was so feared - humbled before the law, it is special because justice is being done."

"He's been terrorizing that part of the world for at least a decade," Crane added. "He has incredible power, influence - almost mythical powers. People are afraid of him."

Taylor will be held in a special wing of a maximum-security prison outside The Hague, where the International Criminal Court is located. He has pleaded innocent to 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and faces life imprisonment if convicted.

Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is the only other sitting head of state to be indicted for war crimes. He died this year in a U.N. cell in The Hague before his genocide trial could be completed.

While the Milosevic trial dragged on for four years, prosecutors said they expect the proceedings against Taylor to be far quicker.

Crane said Taylor's trial should start in January and take about a year. Witnesses likely will include atrocity survivors and members of Taylor's inner circle who agreed to testify against him.


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