, THE HAGUE, July 13 – The war crimes trial of Charles Taylor resumed Monday with defence lawyers preparing to put the former Liberian president on the witness stand.
"We are here to defend a man who we say is innocent of all these charges," Taylor’s lawyer Courtenay Griffiths told the court. The prosecution case "is lacking in proof."
Taylor denies all the charges, including murder, rape, conscripting child soldiers, enslavement and pillaging, arising from the 1991-2001 civil war in Sierra Leone.
About 120,000 people were killed in the war, with rebels mutilating thousands more — cutting off arms, legs, ears and noses.
Griffiths told AFP ahead of the start of the defence case Taylor would challenge the prosecutor’s charges of involvement in the neighbouring country when he starts giving evidence on Tuesday.
"He accepts that he was involved only in so far as he was trying to broker peace in Sierra Leone, not by aiding and abetting civil war," he said.
Prosecutor Stephen Rapp has insisted that Taylor was "an exceptional violator of human rights". The ex-leader’s testimony would shed the first light on certain episodes of the wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Taylor is accused of arming, training and controlling Revolutionary United Front rebels blamed for many of the mutilations, and of involvement in the "blood diamonds" trade.
He was expected to stay in the witness stand for six to eight weeks. A final verdict in the case is only expected in a year’s time.
The 61-year-old Taylor has been on trial in The Hague since January, 2008. Following his arrest in Nigeria he was handed over to the Special Tribunal for Sierra Leone in 2006.
The former warlord was president of Liberia from 1997 after his rebel forces unseated President Samuel Doe, but was himself overthrown by a rebellion and went into exile in 2003.
Taylor’s trial was moved from Sierra Leone to the Netherlands because of fears that his presence in the African country could destabilise the region.