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Taylor War Crimes Trial Will Take Star Turn With Model's Testimony

The ongoing Charles Taylor West African war crimes trial in The Hague will take a star turn next week when supermodel Naomi Campbell testifies.

Officials at the Special Court for Sierra Leone say Campbell is due to appear August 5, after she asked for a postponement from a scheduled appearance this week.

They say they hoped there would be no more delays.

Earlier this month, the British supermodel was subpoenaed to testify about claims Charles Taylor gave her a large rough-cut diamond, allegedly linked to Sierra Leone's conflict, at a dinner party in South Africa in 1997.

Earlier this year, Campbell had told American television host Oprah Winfrey she did not want to be involved in the Taylor case. She said she did not want to put her family in danger.

But after the court's subpoena, she said she would testify.

Lawyers for the former Liberian president have called the move a publicity stunt, and say the testimony will be a distraction.

Former chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone David Crane, who indicted Mr. Taylor in 2003, disagrees.

"I think what the prosecutors there are doing, they are just showing everybody the fact that Charles Taylor was very much involved, moving about using diamonds as cash and guns for influence," he said.

Mr. Taylor, who has been on trial since 2008, has denied charges he backed rebels in Sierra Leone in exchange for diamonds. He says he is being blamed for situations he did not control.

American actress Mia Farrow wrote a statement to the court saying Campbell had told her she had been given a large diamond from Charles Taylor after the 1997 dinner in South Africa, which they all attended.

Crane says the incident is revealing. "The fact that Charles Taylor was showing off and using the diamonds that he received from Sierra Leone, giving them allegedly to other people, famous people like Naomi Campbell, just shows the kind of a mindset," Crane says, "an evil-thinking mind of Charles Taylor, and what he was doing with the diamonds from Sierra Leone."

Yale University political anthropologist Mike McGovern, a West Africa expert, says besides the Campbell involvement there has been little awareness in the United States of the Taylor trial.

"Honestly, West Africa tends not to make the news unless there is some kind of horrible event taking place or famine or a visit by some American official," McGovern states.

But Mr. Taylor and his family have a long history with the United States. The former Liberian president was a student in the Boston area in the 1970s.

After fleeing Liberia in the 1980s, he was put in jail in Plymouth, Massachusetts, on a warrant for extradition to face embezzlement charges. He allegedly escaped, but during his current trial he said he had received help from a prison guard and U.S. agents, claims that have not been independently confirmed.

His son, who was born in Boston, Emmanuel Chuckie Taylor, is serving a 97-year sentence in Florida, after being convicted of torturing or ordering the torture of dozens of his family's political opponents in Liberia.

His conviction marked the first time a U.S. law allowing prosecution for overseas torture was used.

McGovern says the Charles Taylor trial is also very significant, and deserves attention beyond the Naomi Campbell appearance.

"Heads of state who abuse their citizens may now find themselves in the dock later on, in the way that Taylor did," McGovern said. "It is really a precedent setting trial. Presidents from any country in the world might one day find themselves in the same situation."

The Special Court for Sierra Leone was created jointly by the government of Sierra Leone and the United Nations.

It is also the first international criminal tribunal to be funded entirely from voluntary contributions. The trial is taking place in the Hague because of security concerns.