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Last Updated: Monday, 3 April 2006, 17:30 GMT 18:30 UK
Taylor pleads not guilty at trial
Charles Taylor (l) makes his first court appearance in Freetown, Sierra Leone
Charles Taylor listened impassively as the charges were read out
Former Liberian President Charles Taylor has pleaded not guilty to all charges in his first appearance at a war crimes court in Sierra Leone.

He initially refused to plead, saying the UN-backed special court in Freetown had no authority to try him.

He faces charges for allegedly backing Revolutionary United Front rebels in Sierra Leone's 1991-2002 civil war.

They committed widespread atrocities, such as chopping off people's limbs, as they fought to topple the government.

Mr Taylor was transferred to Sierra Leone last week after being arrested in Nigeria.

Nigeria had given him asylum under an agreement to end Liberia's own civil war in 2003.

Detailed charge sheet

Security was tight at the court in Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown, as Mr Taylor arrived for his first appearance.

Most definitely, I... could not have committed these acts against the sister republic of Sierra Leone
Charles Taylor

Wearing a dark suit and red tie, Mr Taylor listened impassively as 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity were read out, the BBC's Mark Doyle in Freetown says.

Before pleading not guilty, Mr Taylor told the judge: "I do not recognise the jurisdiction of this court."

The judge dismissed this argument and asked again how he pleaded. Mr Taylor responded: "Most definitely, I did not and could not have committed these acts against the sister republic of Sierra Leone."

Mr Taylor has not yet picked his own defence team so was represented by court-appointed lawyers.

Shortly after pleading he was taken back under heavy security to his cell within the court compound.

TAYLOR TIMELINE
1989: Launches rebellion
1991: RUF rebellion starts in Sierra Leone
1995: Peace deal signed
1997: Elected president
1999: Lurd starts rebellion to oust Taylor
June 2003: Arrest warrant issued
August 2003: Steps down, goes into exile in Nigeria
March 2006: Arrested, sent to Sierra Leone

This trial is now likely to be transferred to The Hague in the Netherlands where the Sierra Leone court will sit in special session, our correspondent says.

It has been decided that it is simply too dangerous for Mr Taylor to be tried in Sierra Leone because of his connections and continuing influence in the region, he adds.

The chief prosecutor at the court describes 58-year-old Mr Taylor as one of the three worst war criminals in the world, alongside the Serbian fugitives Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic.

The indictment he faces has been shortened and simplified, but is still a lengthy document.

The charges against him include murder, rape, sexual slavery, physical violence and cruel treatment, recruiting child soldiers and terrorising the civilian population.

In every case the charge sheet gives specific dates and places where these crimes were committed in Sierra Leone.

Analysts say trials on similar charges are already going on at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, but what sets Mr Taylor's case apart is that he was in neighbouring Liberia when the events were taking place.

A second part of the indictment attempts to link Mr Taylor to the rebellion in Sierra Leone.

Diamond deal

The prosecution claims that Mr Taylor provided the RUF leader Foday Sankoh with training, money, arms and ammunition to start his rebellion in Sierra Leone, and even lent him fighters to take part in the initial attack.

A UN soldier outside the Special Court of Sierra Leone, in Freetown
The trial may be moved from the Freetown court to The Hague
It is alleged that he shared a common plan with the rebel commanders to gain power and control over Sierra Leone, so he could gain access to its diamonds and have a government in Freetown which would support his aims, our correspondent says.

Lawyers advising Mr Taylor argue that the UN-backed court in Sierra Leone, has no right to try him and that it has no jurisdiction over Liberia or its former president.

The Special Court was set up to try to bring to justice those responsible for crimes during the country's decade-long civil war which officially ended in 2002.

The tribunal operates under both Sierra Leone domestic law and international humanitarian law.

The UN Security Council is considering a resolution to move Mr Taylor's trial to The Hague.


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See scenes from inside the court



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