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Liberia's Taylor ordered cannibalism, court told

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Former Liberian President Charles Taylor ordered his militias to eat the flesh of captured enemies and U.N. soldiers, a former close aide testified on Thursday at Taylor’s war crimes trial.

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor sits in the courtroom of the International Criminal Court prior to the hearing of witnesses in his trial in The Hague January 7, 2008. REUTERS/Michael Kooren

“He (Taylor) said we should eat them. Even the U.N. white people -- he said we could use them as pork to eat,” Joseph “ZigZag” Marzah, who described himself as Taylor’s former death squad commander, told the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone.

Taylor, once one of Africa’s most feared warlords, faces charges of rape, murder, mutilation and recruitment of child soldiers during a 1991-2002 conflict. He has pleaded not guilty.

Marzah, on his second day as witness in his former leader’s trial, gave graphic details of atrocities in Liberia and Sierra Leone and of an ingrained culture of violence and brutality.

On Wednesday he described how he had killed so many men, women and children he had lost count, and he had also slit open the stomachs of pregnant women on Taylor’s order.

More than 250,000 people died in intertwined wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Prosecutors say Taylor wanted to plunder neighboring Sierra Leone’s diamonds and destabilize its government by controlling and arming rebels.

The 60-year-old former leader frowned at times during Marzah’s cross-examination by his lawyer.

Taylor’s defense counsel challenged Marzah’s testimony, saying he was lying and asked him whether he had approached prosecutors in order to escape punishment himself.

When asked how he prepared humans to eat Marzah said: “We slit your throat, butcher you ... throw away the head, take the flesh and put it in a pot ... Charles Taylor knows that.”

Marzah, 49, is the 20th witness for the prosecution since Taylor’s trial began in earnest at the start of January.

Earlier in his testimony Marzah said he took weapons, some stored at Taylor’s presidential mansion, to Sierra Leone and returned to Liberia with diamonds which he handed to Taylor.

The wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone were particularly brutal. Thousands of civilians had their limbs hacked off by drug-crazed rebels, many of them children.

Taylor went into exile in Nigeria after he was overthrown in 2003 and was handed over to the court after international pressure was put on the Nigerian authorities.

His trial was moved to The Hague because of fears it could reignite instability if held in Sierra Leone.

Editing by Richard Balmforth