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May 25, 2003 

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War Crimes Court indicts Liberia's President

A U.N.-sponsored war crimes court charged Liberian President Charles Taylor with crimes against humanity for a 10-year terror campaign in which tens of thousands of people were killed, raped, kidnapped or maimed in neighbouring Sierra Leone.
Taylor, a warlord-turned-president, long had been accused of running guns and keeping close ties to Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front, the rebels whose ruinous battle for control of Sierra Leone's diamond fields ended last year. The indictment accuses Taylor of "bearing the greatest responsibility for war crimes, crimes against humanity and serious violations of international humanitarian law," said David Crane, the American prosecutor of the joint U.N.-Sierra Leone war-crimes court that issued the indictment and subsequent arrest warrant.
The Sierra Leone tribunal was created by the United Nations and Sierra Leone to try serious violations committed since Nov. 30, 1996, when rebels signed a peace accord that failed to end the war.
Taylor sparked civil war in Liberia in 1989 with a failed coup attempt. The war killed hundreds of thousands in the West African country. He was elected in 1997 after emerging as the strongest warlord from the conflict.
Taylor aligned himself with Sierra Leone's rebels early in their war, selling them weapons in exchange for diamonds he would then sell abroad. Taylor's ties to the Sierra Leone rebels date back more than a decade to when he trained with rebel leader Foday Sankoh in Libya. Sankoh also was indicted and is in custody.
Taylor still is under U.N. sanctions for alleged gunrunning and other ties with West Africa's many rebel movements. The sanctions include a ban on travel outside of Liberia. Crane, the prosecutor, made clear he had timed the indictment to Taylor's trip abroad. In his statement, Crane said those attending the Ghana peace talks should "know they are dealing with an indicted war criminal." It was unclear who would have the standing to arrest Taylor. David Coker, a spokesman for a U.N. peace mission in Sierra Leone, called it the responsibility of the Sierra Leone government.
American and British prosecutors have taken top roles in the U.N.-Sierra Leone court. The United States, while refusing to support a standing international war-crimes court, has backed creation of individual courts such as that for Sierra Leone.
Ultimately, it took military intervention by former colonial ruler Britain, West African neighbor Guinea and the world's largest U.N. peace force to crush Sierra Leone's rebels. The government officially declared its war over in January 2002.


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