Court told of brutal tactics incited by Charles Taylor

A witness calling himself Charles Taylor’s death squad commander told a court on Wednesday he killed men, women and babies on the former Liberian leader’s orders and supplied arms to rebels in Sierra Leone.

Taylor, once one of Africa’s most feared warlords, faces charges of rape, murder, mutilation and recruitment of child soldiers at the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, set up to try those most responsible for the 1991 to 2002 conflict.

More than 250 000 people died in intertwined wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Prosecutors say Taylor, then president of Liberia, wanted to plunder neighbouring Sierra Leone’s diamonds and destabilise its government by controlling and arming rebels.

In harrowing testimony, Joseph ”ZigZag” Marzah, a Liberian who joined rebels loyal to Taylor and rose through the ranks to become a trusted aide, told of an ingrained culture of brutality among Taylor’s henchmen.

Former rebel leaders who fell out of favour with Taylor met horrific ends. Marzah told how he and others dismembered the body of one notorious leader, ”Superman”, and took his severed hand to Taylor who gave them ”cigarette money” as a reward.

They then cooked and ate ”Superman’s” liver.

Marzah said he had earlier served with the Taylor-backed National Patriotic Front of Liberia rebels and had made road checkpoints out of human intestines with severed heads mounted on sticks.

Asked whether Taylor ever saw such checkpoints, he said: ”He was aware. He made us understand that you have to play with human blood so that enemies would be afraid.”

Marzah is the 20th witness for the prosecution since Taylor’s trial began in earnest at the start of January.

Marzah also told of killing civilians viewed as loyal to rival rebel groups and said he had murdered women with pen knives and drowned and bludgeoned babies without conscience, doing so for Taylor.

”I regret nothing,” the 49-year-old said.

Arms running

Marzah also said he took weapons, some stored at Taylor’s presidential mansion, to Sierra Leone on up to 40 occasions and returned to Liberia with diamonds which he handed to Taylor.

One diamond was five centimetres long.

”When we took it along, Charles Taylor was impressed. He even gave us some money. We took enough ammunition back to Sierra Leone,” said Marzah.

More than 250 000 people died in intertwined wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone, thousands had their limbs hacked off by drug-crazed rebels, many of them children.

Taylor, now 60, went into exile in Nigeria after he was overthrown in 2003 and was handed to the court after international pressure was put on the Nigerian authorities.

His trial was moved to The Hague because of fears it could reignite instability if held in Sierra Leone.

He has pleaded not guilty to all charges. – Reuters

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