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UN War Crimes Tribunal Opens New Courthouse in Sierra Leone - 2004-03-10

The U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone has opened a new courthouse in the capital, Freetown, amid calls for the extradition of former Liberian President Charles Taylor to face multiple charges before the court.

The tribunal, which opened a brand new courthouse in Freetown Wednesday, has indicted Mr. Taylor on 17 counts of crimes related to his support for a brutal group of rebels waging a decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone. He is charged with supporting the Revolutionary United Front rebels with gun-running and diamond smuggling.

Peter Andersen, a spokesman for the court, says the new courthouse represents an important symbol of justice for those who suffered in the war.

"It's a symbol of our efforts to assist in - not only in bringing to justice some of the allegedly worst perpetrators of atrocities and human rights abuses in this sub-region, but also symbolic of our attempts to help in the re-establishment of the rule of law in Sierra Leone," he explained.

Leaders of three rebel and military factions that fought in the war will be the first to appear before the tribunal.

The court spokesman said international pressure should be put on Nigeria to hand over Mr. Taylor, who has been living in exile there since last summer.

"There are efforts ongoing, not only from the court, but also you'll notice there is an increasing amount of international pressure to have Charles Taylor returned to Sierra Leone.," he said. "The charges against him are very serious. In fact, they are among the most serious charges that any human being can face, and in the interest of international justice, Charles Taylor must face those charges."

The human rights group, Human Rights Watch, joined in the appeal, calling on the United Nations and the United States to step up pressure on Nigeria to hand Mr. Taylor over to the court.