Charles Taylor shuns war crimes trial

 Liberian ex-president Charles Taylor shunned his war crimes trial Tuesday and was absent when the prosecution wrapped up its case that he fuelled war in Sierra Leone in exchange for diamonds.

"Charles Taylor was profiting from the diamonds and the blood of the people of Sierra Leone," co-prosecutor Nicolas Koumjian told judges of the Special Court for Sierra Leone as the three-year-long trial entered its final phase with the prosecution's oral closing arguments.

"It is because of the diamonds that the war was sponsored," said Koumjian. "The diamonds were going to Charles Taylor and Charles Taylor was fuelling the atrocities that were committed."

Taylor, whose lawyer had stormed out of the courtroom in the morning in protest at the judges' refusal to allow the late filing of a written summary of the defence case, later refused to return to court after a 30-minute coffee break.

Liberian ex-president Charles Taylor has shunned his war crimes trial and was absent when the prosecution wrapped up its case that he fuelled war in Sierra Leone in exchange for diamonds

The prosecution claims the 62-year-old, described as an "intelligent, charismatic manipulator" by chief prosecutor Brenda Hollis, armed Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels who staged one of the most brutal conflicts in modern times.

The Sierra Leone civil war claimed some 120,000 lives in the 10 years to 2001, with RUF rebels, Taylor's "surrogate army", mutilating thousands of civilians by hacking off their limbs.

Taylor was present for the morning session when Hollis told the court he bore "the greatest responsibility for the horrific crimes committed against the people of Sierra Leone through the campaign of terror inflicted on them."

He "was in charge of, put in place, directed, nurtured and supported the campaign of terror," she told the judges, describing the accused as "a man with an insatiable greed for wealth and power."

The campaign was part of a scheme "to forcibly control the people and territory of Sierra Leone... and to pillage the resources, in particular the diamonds," Hollis said as Taylor looked on dispassionately from behind darkened glasses, dressed in a dark suit and tie with gold cuff-links.

Taylor refused to return to the courtroom after the morning break he spent in a holding area, with a court official reporting to the judges that "he said he was very upset and needed some rest."

Presiding judge Teresa Doherty ordered that the proceedings continue despite the absence of Taylor or his lawyer, Courtenay Griffiths, who had stormed out of the courtroom in the morning in protest at the judges' refusal to accept the late filing of his final, written brief.

"We do not feel that it would be appropriate for us to take part," Griffiths said before rushing out, ignoring an order to sit down and a warning that he risked a contempt ruling.

Griffiths said the judges' refusal to accept the brief 20 days beyond the deadline rendered the proceedings unfair.

"It is our duty to withdraw" pending an appeal ruling against the judges' decision, said Griffiths, accused by Hollis of seeking to "manipulate" the proceedings.

With his client compelled by two guards to remain seated, the lawyer stormed out, later telling journalists his presence would lend legitimacy to "a complete farce".

Taylor has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, claiming his trial was based on "lies" and an intelligence conspiracy.

He is the first African head of state to be tried by an international tribunal.

Griffiths was scheduled to have presented the defence's closing arguments on Wednesday, but said he would not do so "pending the decision of the appeals chamber" on the judges' refusal of his filing.

Two hours have been set aside for rebuttal arguments for each party on Friday, after which the judges will retire to consider their judgment, expected by the middle of this year.


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