Charles Taylor expected to appear for pre-trial hearing

Former Liberian president Charles Taylor was expected to make his first appearance in a Hague courtroom on Friday for a hearing aimed at paving the way for his war-crimes trial.

The former warlord faces 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for allegedly overseeing the murder, rape and mutilation of thousands of people during Sierra Leone’s bloody 10-year civil war. He has pleaded not guilty but faces a life sentence if convicted.

Taylor was flown to The Netherlands in June to stand trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The court is renting space at the International Criminal Court on the outskirts of The Hague, fearing that staging Taylor’s trial in Sierra Leone could trigger fresh unrest in the war-scarred African nation.

Prosecutors say they are ready to move quickly to put Taylor on trial, although the case is not expected to start until early 2007.

The charges against Taylor stem from his alleged backing of Sierra Leonean rebels, who terrorised victims by chopping off their arms, legs, ears and lips.

Taylor also launched a Liberian insurgency in 1989 and won elections that handed him the presidency in 1997. Rebels took up arms against him three years later, and he fled to Nigeria in 2003 at the end of Liberia’s 14-year civil war.

In March he was captured as he attempted to slip out of Nigeria after the country agreed to hand him over to authorities seeking his prosecution.

The Dutch government finally agreed in June to host his trial after British authorities agreed to find a cell for Taylor if he is convicted.

Taylor is being held in a detention unit operated by the International Criminal Court located in a wing of the maximum security Dutch prison in The Hague — the same prison where former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic died in March while on trial for genocide and war crimes at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. — Sapa-AP

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