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Prosecutors Oppose Motion to Acquit Former Liberian President Taylor

Prosecutors in the war crimes trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor oppose a defense motion to acquit him of charges relating to his alleged involvement in Sierra Leone's civil war. Mr. Taylor's lawyers say prosecutors have failed to prove the case against him.

Prosecution counsel Brenda Hollis says Mr. Taylor's participation in Sierra Leone's civil war contributed directly to crimes against humanity including murder, rape, and enslavement.

"When you look at the evidence, you really could not have started this conflict in Sierra Leone without his involvement. He provided the means, he provided the men - many of the men - he provided commanders early on," she said.

Hollis says Mr. Taylor's provision of radio equipment allowed the rebel Revolutionary United Front to use limited resources more efficiently. She says many of the fighters his men helped train at the start of the conflict rose to become senior rebel commanders.

"The continuing strategic and tactical advice, direction and encouragement provided by the accused enabled them to efficiently and effectively achieve their strategic objectives. And the additional assistance also enabled them to sustain and maintain a campaign of terror in Sierra Leone," she said.

Mr. Taylor is facing an 11-count indictment alleging that he led RUF rebels across the border and acted as their effective leader for much of Sierra Leone's 10-year civil war.

Opening his defense this week, Mr. Taylor's counsel asked judges to acquit the former Liberian rebel leader because they say prosecutors have not shown any evidence linking him to the planning, instigation, or execution of war crimes.

While conceding that Mr. Taylor supplied arms and ammunition to rebels in Sierra Leone, defense counsel Morris Anyah told the court that there is no evidence his client had direct intent that his actions would lead to the commission of a crime.

"Your honors, if you examine closely the evidence that has been presented and you examine the appropriate legal elements, you will find the evidence lacking," he said.

Arguing against the defense motion to acquit Mr. Taylor, Hollis told judges that at this point they need find only that evidence presented could support a conviction, not that it ultimately will. She cited the testimony of a witness who said rebel leader Foday Sankoh told Mr. Taylor about plans to disrupt Sierra Leone's 1996 elections.

"The offensive would be to make people fearful and anybody who was captured would be amputated and they would ask the person to take his hands off the election. And that in response to this information," she said. "Charles Taylor indicated that the plan was not a bad one. And that Foday Sankoh then communicated to his commanders that he had explained this plan to Charles Taylor, and Charles Taylor said it was not a bad plan at all," she concluded.

The prosecution's indictment says Mr. Taylor helped develop and execute a joint criminal enterprise to control Sierra Leone's diamond wealth and topple the government in Freetown. He has pled not guilty.

The Freetown session of the special court jointly established by the United Nations and the government of Sierra Leone handed down its final judgments Wednesday. It sentenced the three most senior surviving members of the rebel RUF to prison terms of between 52 and 25 years for murder, sexual enslavement, and attacks against U.N. troops.

Mr. Taylor's trial was moved to The Hague because of fears that his supporters might disrupt proceedings held in neighboring Sierra Leone.

Judges are expected to rule on the defense "Motion for Judgment of Acquittal" in the next few days. If the motion is denied and the trial continues, defense lawyers say Mr. Taylor will be their first witness.