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Liberian President Indicted for Crimes Against Humanity - 2003-06-04

A U.N.-backed war crimes court has indicted Liberian President Charles Taylor for crimes against humanity during the civil war in Sierra Leone, in which he supported the rebels. Mr. Taylor is attending Liberian peace talks in Ghana.

A spokeswoman for the U.N. court in Sierra Leone, Hadja Camara, said the charges against Mr. Taylor are extremely serious.

"His indictment accuses him of bearing the greatest responsibility for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and serious violations of international humanitarian law within the territory of Sierra Leone since November 30, 1996," explained Mr. Camara.

Mr. Taylor was the main supporter of Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front, which was known for hacking off the limbs of civilians during the country's civil war.

Last month, the U.N. renewed sanctions against Mr. Taylor and his government for its continued support of rebel groups in West Africa, which are involved in smuggling weapons and diamonds used to pay for them.

The sanctions include a travel ban on Mr. Taylor, but he went to the Ghanaian capital, Accra, to attend the opening of talks aimed at ending Liberia's own civil war.

Shortly after the indictment was handed down, Mr. Taylor arrived for the talks and went into a meeting with the presidents of South Africa and Nigeria. He did not speak to reporters.

Prosecutors at the U.N. War Crimes Court for Sierra Leone say they timed the indictment to coincide with Mr. Taylor's travel outside Liberia. The war crimes court says it has served Ghanaian authorities with a warrant for Mr. Taylor's arrest, but there was no word they would take Mr. Taylor into custody.

The court's top prosecutor, David Crane, says the talks in Ghana should go ahead without Mr. Taylor.

The talks are the first to bring the warring parties together since an insurgency began in Liberia in 1999. Liberian rebels now control more than half the country.