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Disgraced Liberian Leader Stands Trial

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.

OFEIBEA QUIST: Unidentified Woman: The statute charges Charles Ghankay Taylor with crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law.

QUIST: Charles Taylor denied the war crimes charges.

CHARLES TAYLOR: I did not and could not have committed these acts against the sister Republic of Sierra Leone. I think that this is an attempt to continue to divide and rule of the people of Liberia and Sierra Leone. And so most definitely, I am not guilty.

QUIST: While he was still president of Liberia, Taylor was indicted for supporting, arming and training Revolutionary United Front - RUF - rebels, across the border in Sierra Leone. They were notorious for sowing terror in their wake, keeping young girls as sex slaves, and for the brutal mutilation of their victims during the Sierra Leone conflict in the 1990s. Taylor was said to have masterminded the rebels' movements, as well as using blood diamonds - as they're called - mined in Sierra Leone to fuel civil wars on both sides of the border. The head of Taylor's legal support team in Liberia, John Richardson, backs his claim of innocence.

JOHN RICHARDSON: All of the other indictees of the RUF have on public record made it clear he was not in charge of them. They were their own organization. So we wonder whether this is a legal matter or it's a political trial.

QUIST: Stephen Rapp, the chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, said that Charles Taylor would get a fair trial.

STEPHEN RAPP: It is absolutely necessary that justice be done, and be seen to be done in this case so at the end of the day, people can be confident in the justice of this verdict - the people of Sierra Leone, the people of the region, the people of the world.

QUIST: Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Dakar. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton
Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.