Former Liberian president Charles Taylor made his first appearance before the UN-backed Special Court in Freetown, Sierra Leone. He is facing 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for helping launch and promote more than a decade of conflict in Sierra Leone. In his own country, Liberia, Taylor started a rebellion to overthrow then-president Samuel Doe in 1989. The uprising turned into a 14-year off-and-on civil war in which 250 000 people were killed.
VOA West Africa reporter Joe Bavier is covering the trial in Freetown. In an interview with English to Africa reporter Ashenafi Abedje, Bavier said there is “quite a bit of excitement among those gathered to witness Taylor’s trial, and there is quite a media buzz surrounding this whole thing.” He says Sierra Leoneans have conflicting reactions to seeing Charles Taylor on their soil. “Some don’t take any interest in his trial and wish to put their violent history behind them. Others feel he is a security risk in a region that isn’t entirely stable yet.”
On the issue of where Charles Taylor should be tried, Bavier says some Sierra Leoneans feel their country “lacks the security capacity to keep this guy who has in the past broken out of prison in the United States.” He says others question how Sierra Leoneans will be able to follow the trial from so far away if Taylor is moved to the Hague. Bavier says the Taylor trial may put closure to some war victims, but others wish “to simply forget the war because they live with it every day.”
Later reporter Joe Bavier did a live debriefer with English to Africa reporter Kim Lewis on Africa News Tonight. He updated the story with the news that Taylor, who had refused to enter a plea, had agreed to plead not guilty.