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Sierra Leone War Victims Question Taylor Trial Transfer


The United Nations is preparing to approve a transfer of former Liberian President Charles Taylor's war crimes trial out of Sierra Leone. However, not all Sierra Leoneans are in favor of a move.

Abubakrr Kargbo was returning home from his job as a construction worker on a building site in Freetown the day both his arms were amputated by fighters from the Revolutionary United Front.

"Because they failed their mission, when they are retreating, I met with them, six of them. They caught me. They placed me in a mango tree. They chopped both arms with an ax. They said, you'll never vote again," he recalled.

That was six years ago. And today, Abubakrr makes the trip, two-hours each way, into the capital six days out of the week to beg for enough money to feed his family of five.

He is just one of thousands of Sierra Leoneans to have suffered at the hands of one of the world's most notorious rebel groups. During the country's 11-year civil war, the RUF killed thousands of civilians, forced women into sexual slavery, and trained drug-addled child soldiers, who cut off the hands and feet of thousands.

But now, one of the men allegedly responsible for backing the group, former Liberian President Charles Taylor, is in detention in Freetown.

For Taylor's mere presence at the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone brings back painful memories.

There is little doubt in Sakr's mind that Taylor is guilty of the crimes of which he is accused.

"He was the man who brought logistics, who brought the equipment for them from the border down to Freetown. He was the main supporter. He promised the people of Sierra Leone that you people will taste the bitterness of the war. And we tasted it. So now, Charles also should taste the bitterness of his wickedness," said Sakr.

It took three years to bring Taylor to the Special Court. But now he is there, it is unlikely he will stay long. Citing security risks in the sub-region, where civil wars have raged in three countries since 1989, the international community is trying to move his trial to The Hague.

The U.K. has circulated a resolution in the U.N. Security Council to that effect. A vote is expected this week.

Though court officials say any Security Council resolution would include the increased budget necessary to transport witnesses to testify, many victims of the war are not happy with the planned move.

"It will be a dissatisfaction to most of [us], the victims when he will be judged outside. Because at the present moment in Sierra Leone, we have court monitors who are victims, those who suffered during the 10-plus-year war in Sierra Leone. And when the court sittings are here in Sierra Leone, it is free for us, it is the right of all citizens to be able to go and listen," said Sakr Tarallie.

Eleven people have, so far, been indicted by the Special Court, which was set up to try those who bear the greatest responsibility for serious violations of international humanitarian law during the war.

Abubakkr says he has always supported the idea of the Special Court. It can never make things right again, he says, but it can create some amount of accountability. And he says, that should be done if Freetown.

However, forgiveness, he says, is another matter.

"I'm not forgiving him. I won't forgive him. I won't forgive, be sure," said Abubakrr Kargbo.

Taylor is facing 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in Sierra Leone's civil war. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

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