Taylor nears end of testifying in his own defense

AP News
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Posted: Nov 09, 2009 12:14 PM

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor ended 13 weeks on the witness stand Monday by rejecting allegations that he commanded and controlled rebels who murdered and mutilated thousands of civilians during Sierra Leone's 1991-2002 civil war.

Prosecutors say Taylor provided arms, ammunition and other support to Sierra Leone rebels in return for diamonds mined by slave laborers _ in one case, smuggled out in a mayonnaise jar.

"There are no diamonds running in and out (of Liberia) by the mayonnaise jar-full," Taylor said on what was expected to be his last full day of testifying in his own defense at his war crimes trial.

Taylor, 61, also rejected other claims included in an intelligence report compiled for an unnamed Western power. In the report were allegations that he had a secret Swiss bank account, an arms bunker underneath his presidential mansion in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, that he took kickbacks in cash and weapons for timber concessions and even that he ran an escort agency.

"The president of Liberia involved in call girls? That is nonsense," Taylor said.

Taylor is expected to complete his testimony on Tuesday, giving prosecutors their first chance to publicly question him. His attorney, Courtenay Griffiths, told judges he was on "the last lap" of questioning.

Prosecutors are looking forward to grilling the former president, who is the first African head of state indicted while in office.

"We've been waiting patiently for our turn to test Mr. Taylor on his version of events," the court's acting prosecutor, Joseph Kamara, said in a statement.

"We will directly challenge Mr. Taylor in three ways: on the accuracy, the truthfulness and the completeness of his testimony," he added.

Taylor is accused of 11 counts of murder, rape, sexual slavery, cruelty, forced labor and recruiting child soldiers as he supported rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone. He has denied all allegations.

Taylor's is the last trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Eight other rebel leaders have been tried, convicted and sentenced to prison terms ranging from 15 to 52 years.