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Former Liberian Leader Denies Responsibility for War Crimes

  • Kate Thomas

The trial of Charles Taylor has resumed in The Hague, the Netherlands, where the former Liberian President took the witness stand for the second time in his defense.

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor portrayed himself as an anti-corruption fighter and a peacemaker during the second day of his war crimes trial defense.

He told the judges he spent years fighting corruption in Liberia before coming to power. He said his anti-corruption stance made him deeply unpopular with other politicians in the 1980s.

He then described falling out with former Liberian leader Samuel Doe and his escape from jail in the United States, where he was held on charges of embezzlement.

Taylor is charged with 11 counts of war crimes in Sierra Leone, Liberia's neighbor, but he denies responsibility, arguing that he is a humanitarian. Tuesday, he dismissed the case against him as "built on lies".

Shelby Grossman is a U.S.-based researcher on Liberian politics. She says it is important that the court hears the details of Taylor's story.

"It is crucial that we hear his side of the story," said Grossman. "Liberians and Sierra Leoneans are watching and they want to know what Taylor's side of it is, they want to know how he is going to try to explain some of the things that happened."

Tens of thousands died in the Sierra Leone civil war, which was started by the Revolutionary United Front. 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 is accused of managing the war from Liberia.

Once Taylor's testimony is complete, the court is expected to hear from defense witnesses.

The prosecution called 91 witnesses to the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which was moved from Freetown to The Hague amid fears of provoking instability in West Africa. Some testified about the brutality of the Revolutionary United Front rebels that Taylor is alleged to have supported. Others said they had passed so-called "blood diamonds" to Taylor in exchange for weapons.

Grossman says the prosecution came under some criticism for calling witnesses whose stories were irrelevant to the case.

"Taylor does not deny that many crimes were committed in Sierra Leone, he denies responsibility, so the burden is on the prosecution to show linkage," she said.

Taylor is the first African head of state to be tried in an international, U.N.-backed court.

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