Liberia’s former President, Charles Taylor, has pleaded not guilty to charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the start of a UN backed trial in Sierra Leone. At first he did not plead, saying the court had no authority over him. He is accused of receiving diamonds to train, finance and arm rebels who committed widespread atrocities in Sierra Leone’s decade-long conflict, which ended four years ago.
There was tight security around the courtroom. It is feared Taylor’s presence could trigger unrest both in Freetown and in neighbouring Liberia, where some of his supporters have threatened violence if he is tried.Some members of Taylor’s family who flew in from Liberia said they had mixed feelings about the hearing. “Everything is in the hands of the almighty God. He will be the judge and we pray and ask the court that he should be given a free and fair trial,” said his sister Gebia.
Taylor was transferred to Sierra Leone last week after being arrested in Nigeria where he has been living in exile since 2003 as part of a peace deal. Citing security and logistics concerns, the UN Security Council is considering a request by the court that the Netherlands host the bulk of the trial in The Hague.