Former Liberian president Charles Taylor has testified for the first time at his war crimes trial in The Hague in the Netherlands, saying the case against him is based on lies.
Taylor told the packed courtroom it was "incredible" the prosecution would rely on lies and rumors about his role in Sierra Leone's civil war, which ended in 2002. He is accused of micromanaging that war from neighboring Liberia, and is charged with 11 counts of war crimes, plus murder, rape and mutilation.
"It is quite incredible that such descriptions of me would come about," Taylor said. "Very unfortunate that the prosecution, because of disinformation, misinformation, lies, rumors, would associate me with such titles or descriptions. I am none of those. I have never been and will never be, whether they think so or not."
The 61-year-old is accused of having armed and directed rebel groups from Liberia in order to seize control of Sierra Leone's diamond riches.
He denies those charges, instead arguing he is a humanitarian.
"I am a father of 14 children, grandchildren," Taylor said. "With love for humanity and have fought all my life to do what I thought was right in the interests of justice and fair play. I resent that characterization of me. It is false, it is malicious, and I stop there."
The Revolutionary United Front's activities brought Sierra Leone to its knees. The rebels are blamed for hacking off the arms and legs of civilians with machetes and eating the organs of civilians they had killed.
Taylor testified that he would have never encouraged such horrors in Sierra Leone, because he would not have accepted it in Liberia. He said he gave limited assistance to the RUF during a brief period from 1991 to 1992.
He also spoke of his "lust" for politics and constant desire for change in Liberia. After escaping from jail in the United States, he led a popular rebellion against former Liberian president Samuel Doe in the late 1980s.
Taylor came to power in Liberia in 1997, six years after the RUF rebellion began in Sierra Leone. His electoral campaign was marked by the slogan: "He killed my ma, he killed my pa, but I will still vote for him." A warrant was issued for his arrest in 2003 and he was later transferred to The Hague for trial.
He is the first African head of state to be tried by an international tribunal. This is the first time Taylor has spoken in public since the trial began in January 2008. It is expected to run into 2010.