Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Taylor War Crimes Trial to Resume in Jan.

image The special court trying former Liberian President Charles Taylor on war crimes charges cleared the way Tuesday for his trial to resume next month, more than six months after its chaotic adjournment.

In a hearing lasting less than 10 minutes, the prosecution and defense agreed they would be ready to hear the first evidence on Jan. 7, when the U.N.-backed court will begin a schedule of 25 1/2 hours of hearings per week.

The trial is expected to continue until mid-2009.

Taylor, the first African leader to face an international court, is charged with arming and supporting rebels who killed thousands of civilians and hacked off the limbs of thousands more during Sierra Leone's 10-year civil war, which ended in 2002. Specific charges include murder, sexual slavery and rape, terrorism, and conscripting child soldiers.

He has pleaded innocent.

Prosecutor Brenda Hollis told the court she would present a list of witnesses this week who will appear during the first two weeks of the trial and will file a motion to grant protective measures for some witnesses — the final measures before the trial can begin in earnest.

Prosecutors have said they will present witnesses from Taylor's inner circle who will testify that from his headquarters in Liberia he controlled rebel forces in neighboring Sierra Leone to exploit its timber, diamonds and other resources.

They also have proposed bringing victims mutilated by the rebels, although Taylor's defense team has argued that such testimony was irrelevant and only intended for its emotional appeal, since no one disputed that atrocities occurred during the brutal war.

Taylor boycotted the start of the trial on June 4 when the prosecution gave its opening statement. He told the judges by letter that he was poorly represented by the court-appointed attorney and was accorded inadequate funds to mount a proper defense.

After one more session boycotted by Taylor, the trial was adjourned. It reconvened only for pretrial hearings after he dropped his demand to represent himself and hired a team led by British barrister Courtney Griffiths paid by a grant to Taylor of US$100,000 per month.

The trial, at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, is being held in The Hague because of fears it could ignite violence if it were held in Freetown, Sierra Leone's capital.

The Associated Press: Taylor War Crimes Trial to Resume in Jan.