Page last updated at 10:31 GMT, Monday, 13 July 2009 11:31 UK

Taylor starts war crimes defence

Charles Taylor 7.1.08
Prosecutors say Taylor directed rebels in neighbouring Sierra Leone

Lawyers for Charles Taylor, ex-president of Liberia, have told his trial for crimes against humanity that he tried to bring peace to the country.

He denies 11 charges at the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague, including murder, rape and torture.

Prosecutors say he controlled rebels who carried out atrocities during Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war.

Mr Taylor is due to give evidence on Tuesday. He is the first African leader to be tried by an international court.

As Mr Taylor listened in court, his lawyer Courtenay Griffiths opened the defence, saying: "We do not take issue with the fact that terrible atrocities occurred in Sierra Leone.

"This case should not be about what happened in Sierra Leone, but who bears the greatest responsibility, bearing in mind that Charles Taylor tried to achieve peace."

Before the session started, Claire Carlton-Hanciles, of the court's defence office, told the BBC that Mr Taylor was ready to defend himself and had been prepared for the past six weeks by defence lawyers.

1989 Launches rebellion in Liberia
1991 RUF rebellion starts in Sierra Leone
1995 Peace deal signed
1997 Elected president
1999 Liberia's Lurd rebels start insurrection to oust Taylor
June 2003 Arrest warrant issued
August 2003 Steps down, goes into exile in Nigeria
March 2006 Arrested, sent to Sierra Leone
June 2007 Trial opens in The Hague

"I saw Mr Taylor about two days ago. He is in high spirits."

In May, judges rejected a request by Mr Taylor's defence team to acquit him because of a lack of evidence.

The prosecution says Mr Taylor planned atrocities committed by Revolutionary United Front rebels during Sierra Leone's civil war, which ended in 2002.

The RUF was notorious for using machetes to hack the limbs off civilians.

Mr Taylor is accused of passing guns to the RUF in exchange for diamonds from Sierra Leone.

But his defence claims that Mr Taylor did not command RUF rebels in Sierra Leone, sell them weapons in exchange for blood diamonds or recruit child soldiers.

Mr Taylor started Liberia's civil war in 1989, before being elected president in 1997.

After a period of exile in Nigeria, he was eventually extradited from Liberia in 2006.

The trial, being held by the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, was moved to the Netherlands from Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown, amid fears it could create instability in the country and neighbouring Liberia.

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