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Sierra Leoneans Worried, Satisfied Ahead of Taylor Court Appearance


In the final hours leading up to what will be former Liberian President Charles Taylor's first day in court, his trial has become the main subject of public debate. Joe Bavier is in the capital Freetown, and went out on the street to see how Sierra Leoneans feel about the return of the man who allegedly helped perpetuate a bloody civil war in their country.

Freetown has come a long way in the four years since the war ended. For most of the day the city is paralyzed, but not by the rebel bombardments that hammered it during a decade of fighting. Today, it is traffic jams that shut the city down.

Some see this new problem as a sign of progress. It is almost a point of pride. Despite the progress, for most Sierra Leoneans, memories of the war are never far away.

Henry Lebbie lost a brother and his father during the war. On two occasions, he was dragged out of vehicles by rebels, and had to flee into the bush.

"If they say you are going to die today, it means you are going to die," said Henry Lebbie. "That is definite. If you are going to survive, they go to your place and take your food by force, by violence. Anything they feel like doing. They always think your life, your future is in their hands, because they are having the guns. So, if you are always in the zone of the rebels, that means you are zero."

Like most Sierra Leoneans, Henry has followed the events of the past two weeks closely. He rejoiced when Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo ended Charles Taylor's asylum. He was frustrated when it appeared Taylor would not be sent to Sierra Leone's Special Court. And then came the worst.

"In fact, the day I heard that Charles Taylor has gone on the run," he said. "That day, I was sleepless, because my thinking was, there would be another war against Sierra Leone. Because, if that man left Nigeria, no one would know his whereabouts. At the end of the day, if there is no country to harbor him, that man just go to the bush again."

But Taylor never made it to the bush. After his arrest attempting to cross into Cameroon, he will have his first day in court Monday.

Some Sierra Leoneans fear their country cannot provide the security needed to hold Taylor, who once successfully escaped from a prison in the United States. Others are not even sure the trial would be a good thing.

Thirty three-year-old Mohamed Barrie says Taylor should be tried in Freetown.

"We want to know the cause of the war, and how he engaged himself to do something like that, to engage himself, to deal with the area like that, you know," said Mohamed Barrie.

Taylor is accused of backing the brutal Revolutionary United Front rebels, who were notorious for raping women, amputating the hands and feet of civilians, and sending drugged child soldiers into battle. He faces 11 charges, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. He has long denied the charges and is expected to plead not guilty.