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Liberia's Charles Taylor Appears in Court, Pleads Not Guilty

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor has made his first appearance before Sierra Leone's special war crimes court. Joe Bavier was at the U.N.-backed court in Freetown and reports for VOA that, though finally behind bars, the ex-warlord remained defiant at the opening of his long-awaited trial.

Dressed in a dark blue suit, white shirt, and red tie, Taylor remained calm and expressionless during the reading of the 11 counts against him, a process that took nearly half-an-hour.

The former president of Liberia is facing charges of terrorizing civilians, unlawful killings, sexual and physical violence, and using child soldiers among others. The charges stem from his alleged backing of the notorious Revolutionary United Front rebels during Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war.

When it was time for Taylor to reply to the charges against him, instead of entering a plea, he made a statement.

"There's an issue here regarding this court, its right to exercise its jurisdiction over me, as the 21st president of the Republic of Liberia," he said.

However, the presiding judge, Justice Richard Lussick, refused to accept Taylor's protests.

"Until such time as your initial appearance is completed, you do not have the right to bring any motions before this court," he said.

But even as he pled not guilty to all 11 charges, Taylor remained calm and defiant.

"Most definitely, your honor, I did not, and I could not have committed these acts against the sister Republic of Sierra Leone," he said. "I think, this is an attempt to continue to divide and rule Liberia and Sierra Leone. And so, most definitely, I am not guilty."

After only an hour in session, Justice Lussick attempted to draw the day's proceedings to a close. But Taylor still had one surprise left for the court.

Against expectations, Taylor requested his trial be held in Freetown. Both Liberia's current president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and the Special Courts president have requested the trial be moved to The Hague.

The U.N. Security Council is expected to put forward a resolution on a change of venue early this week. And members of Taylor's own political party in Liberia, the NPP, have supported the move.

But Taylor says, if he is to stand trial, he wants it to be in the sub-region.