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Taylor War Crimes Court Hears Tales of Horror


The trial of former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, resumed with the harrowing testimony of a clergyman - the first alleged victim of Sierra Leone's rebels to appear in court. Prosecutors say Mr. Taylor supported the rebels in terrorizing Sierra Leone's people so he could get control of the country's diamond wealth. Lauren Comiteau is following court proceedings and files this report for VOA from Amsterdam.

Alex Tamba Teh, 47, is a clergyman from the diamond district of Kono in Sierra Leone. He spoke calmly, but the stories he told are horrific.

He was captured in 1998 by rebels belonging to the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council and the Revolutionary United Front and posing as Nigerian peacekeepers. These are the rebel groups that Charles Taylor is charged with supporting and funding.

They marched Tamba Teh, along with 249 other civilians, to a mosque. The men were separated from the women and children. Then the rebel commander calling himself "Rocky" learned that Tamba Teh was a pastor, he told him to pray for everybody. He then pulled the pastor from the line and opened fire on the men.

He killed all 101 of them. Rocky then gave instructions to a group of young boys known as SBU's, or Small Boys Unit - child soldiers younger than 15 years old, many too small to lift up their own guns, some with machetes. He ordered them to decapitate all the men he had just shot.

Tamba Teh then told judges about another boy, about 16 years old, who was taken screaming from the rebels. The witness used his own arms and legs to describe what happened to the boy next, with an interpreter translating his Creole.

"I saw another group of SBU boys with a small boy," said Teh. "He was screaming, what have I done. They didn't say anything. But the boy was screaming. At first, they put his right arm on a log. They took a machete and amputated it at the wrist. The boy was screaming and shouting, asking them, 'What have I done that you are doing this to me?' They took the left arm again and put it on the same log and sliced it off. He was still screaming and shouting. They took the left leg, put it on the same log and cut it off at the ankle. At last, they took the right leg again and put it on the log and cut it off with a machete."

In the end, they took the screaming and mutilated boy and threw him into a toilet pit.

Tamba Teh, whose own life was spared by a random vote of rebel commanders, then described women being used as sexual slaves, men who had to walk sometimes 80 kilometers to get food for the soldiers that they themselves were not allowed to eat, and prisoners who had the rebel groups' initials carved into their skin so they would not escape.

Mr. Taylor's lawyers do not deny that atrocities took place in Sierra Leone, but dispute his involvement in them.

Tamba Teh did not directly link Charles Taylor to the crimes, but he told the tribunal how he and other prisoners retrieved weapons and ammunition from a helicopter with Liberian writing on it. Mr. Taylor was president of Liberia at the time. He also testified one of the rebel commanders was from Liberia and another one took orders from Monrovia.

Mr. Taylor took refuge in Nigeria after he was forced to step down in 2003, but, after intense diplomatic pressure, was handed over to the war crimes tribunal.

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