THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Prosecutors at the U.N.-backed Sierra Leone court will start cross-examining Charles Taylor on Tuesday, challenging the former Liberian president on his denials of weapons trading in exchange for “blood diamonds.”
Taylor, 61, has denied all 11 charges of instigating murder, rape, mutilation, sexual slavery and conscripting child soldiers during the intertwined wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone in which more than 250,000 people were killed.
The first African ruler to stand trial for war crimes, Taylor will end his testimony on Tuesday after taking the stand in his own defense on July 14, arguing the case against him was full of lies and that he tried to broker peace in the region.
“My government negotiated the peace in Sierra Leone,” Taylor said under questioning from his defense counsel on Monday.
Taylor has vehemently denied supplying arms to Sierra Leone rebels, saying the British and U.S. governments were involved in the supply of weapons to the region as both countries wanted him ousted from power in Liberia. He says he was the fall guy in an intelligence plot designed to lead to his destruction.
In 2001, the United Nations Security Council imposed a new arms embargo on Liberia, first introduced in 1992, after a U.N. report found that Liberia smuggled arms to Sierra Leone in return for diamonds with Taylor’s “permission and involvement.”
Prosecutors say Taylor armed and directed Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels to win control of neighboring Sierra Leone’s diamond mines and destabilize its government to boost his regional influence during the country’s 1991-2002 civil war.
“We will directly challenge Mr. Taylor in three ways — on the accuracy, the truthfulness and the completeness of his testimony,” said acting prosecutor Joseph Kamara.
Prosecutors called 91 witnesses before wrapping up their case in February. In often disturbing detail, witnesses described amputations and murder of children.
Taylor’s trial, being held in The Hague for security reasons, is the last before the U.N.-backed Sierra Leone court after an appeals ruling last month confirmed jail terms of up to 52 years for three former rebel commanders.
Taylor has denied claims from a close aide he had a pregnant woman buried alive behind his mansion in Monrovia in a ceremony designed for him to keep power. He has also dismissed involvement in the cannibalism of a human heart.
“You have a leader eating people, burying pregnant women, and it’s not racist? It is. This is beyond racism,” he said in September.
But prosecution spokesman Jeremy Waiser rejected Taylor’s claims of racism or that he was made to be a scapegoat.
“If there were a playbook of standard procedures for those accused of the worst atrocities, chapter one would be to distract attention from the charges to claim the trial is some sort of plot from other individuals and nations,” Waiser said.
Once the cross-examination of Taylor is completed, the defense will call other witnesses. A ruling is expected in the first half of 2010.
Additional reporting by Reed Stevenson in Amsterdam