Charles Taylor blamed for "terror campaign"

8th February 2011, Comments 0 comments

Liberian ex-president Charles Taylor was accused by prosecutors Tuesday of warmongering in Sierra Leone, in the absence of his lawyer who stormed out of court in a showdown with judges.

"Charles Taylor bears the greatest responsibility for the horrific crimes committed against the people of Sierra Leone through the campaign of terror inflicted on them," prosecutor Brenda Hollis said in closing arguments before the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

He "was in charge of, put in place, directed, nurtured and supported the campaign of terror," said Hollis, all "to forcibly control the people and territory of Sierra Leone... and to pillage the resources, in particular the diamonds."

Taylor, in a dark suit and tie and gold cufflinks, looked on from behind darkened glasses, his lawyer's courtroom seat in Leidschendam, near The Hague, empty.

The prosecution claims the 62-year-old, described by Hollis as an "intelligent, charismatic manipulator", armed Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels who staged one of the most brutal conflicts in modern times, in exchange for illegally mined diamonds.

The Sierra Leone civil war claimed some 120,000 lives in the 10 years to 2001, with RUF rebels mutilating thousands of civilians who had their arms severed.

"All these atrocities to feed the greed and lust for power of Charles Taylor," said Hollis, running through the crimes on the indictment.

Taylor's lawyer, Courtenay Griffiths, stormed out of the courtroom in the morning in protest at the judges' refusal to accept the late filing of his final, written brief.

"We do not feel that it would be appropriate for us to take part," Griffiths said before rushing out, ignoring an order to sit down and a warning that he risked a contempt ruling.

Taylor's trial on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in neighbouring Sierra Leone in the 10 years to 2001, entered its final phase Tuesday with the prosecution's oral closing arguments.

But Griffiths said the judges' refusal to accept the brief 20 days beyond the deadline, rendered the proceedings unfair.

"It is our duty to withdraw" pending an appeal ruling against that decision, said Griffiths, announcing that both he and his client intended to leave.

"The trial will continue," said judge Teresa Doherty, as the lawyer rose to his feet after Hollis accused the defence of seeking to manipulate the trial.

"There have already been too many delays in the trial. The accused and counsel will remain and hear the submissions of the prosecutor as scheduled," the judge said.

As his client was compelled by two guards to stay seated, Griffiths stormed out, later telling journalists he did so not to lend legitimacy to "a complete farce".

Griffiths was to have presented the defence's closing arguments on Wednesday, but said he would not do so "pending the decision of the appeals chamber" on the judges' refusal of his brief.

Two hours have been set aside for rebuttal arguments for each party on Friday, after which the judges will retire to consider their judgment, expected in mid-2011.

Taylor's trial, the first ever for an African head of state in an international tribunal, started in earnest in January 2008.

He has pleaded not guilty.

© 2011 AFP

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