I'm no cannibal, Taylor tells war-crimes trial

Liberia’s former president, Charles Taylor, on Monday denied that he had ever eaten human flesh or ordered his fighters to do so as he answered allegations of cannibalism at his war-crimes trial.

“It is sickening. You must be sick to believe it,” the one-time warlord testified in the Special Court for Sierra Leone, sitting in The Hague.

“It makes you feel like throwing up.”

Taylor (61) said he could not dispute that there were cannibals in certain parts of Liberia, but claims that he was among them were “total nonsense”.

A witness had testified at the trial that he ate human flesh with Taylor at a gathering of a secret society, Poro.

“It never happened,” the ex-president retorted, adding: “I never ordered any combatant to eat anyone.”

Some witnesses have told the court that combatants of Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia had committed cannibalism to instil fear in civilians in the West African nation.

The former leader and warlord took the stand in his own defence on July 14, dismissing as “lies” charges of murder, rape, conscripting child soldiers, enslavement and pillaging against him.

He has been on trial since January 2008 on 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity stemming from the brutal 1991 to 2001 civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone, whose rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) he is accused of arming in exchange for so-called “blood diamonds”.

The RUF is blamed for the mutilation of thousands of civilians who had their hands and arms severed in one of the most brutal wars in modern history, which claimed about 120 000 lives.

“It is beyond imagination that one could believe that the president of Liberia would go into Sierra Leone because he wants to terrorise the population and go for its wealth,” Taylor said on Monday.

He insisted he had “absolutely nothing” to gain from destabilising Sierra Leone, adding that such actions would simply cause him to “lose foreign aid, lose assistance, lose friends”.

Taylor is the first African leader to be tried before an international court.

He became president of Liberia in 1997 after rebels had unseated Samuel Doe in 1989, but was himself overthrown by a rebellion and agreed to go into exile in 2003.

Taylor was handed over to the tribunal in 2006 following his arrest in Nigeria. His trial is being held in The Netherlands for fears that his presence in Sierra Leone could destabilise the West African region.

He has told the court that he had sought to broker peace in Sierra Leone, and not fuel war.

Taylor’s testimony is expected to last several weeks.—AFP

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