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Former Liberian President Speaks at War Crimes Sentencing Hearing

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor looks up to the public gallery as he waits for the start of his sentencing hearing in Leidschendam, near The Hague, Netherlands, May 16, 2012

Former Liberian president Charles Taylor has said he has "deepest sympathies" for those who suffered during Sierra Leone's brutal civil war - but stopped short of apologizing for atrocities committed by rebels he armed in exchange for diamonds.

Instead, Taylor told judges in The Hague Wednesday that his actions during the bloody conflict were "done with honor" to bring peace to the Sierra Leone.

"I say with all stupor [sic] that my actions were genuine and done with one thing in mind - helping to bring peace to Sierra Leone, thus providing an enabling environment for progress in both countries, Liberia being my constitutional responsibility as president," he said.

The former president made a 20-minute appeal for leniency before judges at a sentencing hearing on Wednesday.

The U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone convicted Taylor last month on 11 counts of crimes against humanity, including acts of terrorism, murder, rape and the recruitment of child soldiers.

Prosecutors have asked the 64-year-old former leader to be sentenced to 80 years in prison. Taylor's attorney's have argued an 80-year jail term would be overly harsh and place too much blame on Taylor.

He is due to be sentenced on May 30.

During his remarks on Wednesday, Taylor accused the prosecution of paying witnesses to testify against him and accused the court of being part of a Western conspiracy against him and other black Africans.

Prosecutors said he armed rebels during Sierra Leone's civil war in the 1990's in exchange for so-called "blood diamonds," mined in eastern Sierra Leone.

The court found Taylor did not have command and control of the rebels, but was aware of their activities and provided them with weapons and other supplies.

Taylor is the first African head of state to be brought before an international tribunal to face charges for mass atrocities and violations of international humanitarian law.

VOA reporter Joe De Capua interviewed Mark Ellis, Executive Director of the International Bar Association, about the prosecution's efforts to have Taylor receive a very long prison sentence. To listen to interview click on the link below.
De Capua interview with Mark Ellis
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