Charles Taylor Denies Trading with Sierra Leone
November 16, 2008
AMSTERDAM (AP) _ Former Liberian President Charles Taylor pointed to impassible roads and his country's own mineral wealth Monday to deny key testimony at his war crimes trial that he had traded arms for diamonds in Sierra Leone.
Taylor, starting his third week of testimony at the Special Court for Sierra Leone in The Hague, said neither of the two roads that led to the Sierra Leone border could support vehicles laden with weapons, as alleged by a prosecution witness.
No road existed then, and no road exists now,'' he told the court. The only access was by rough roads surfaced with rocks and dirt.
Taylor is accused of arming and supplying Sierra Leone militias whose signature crime during the 1991-2002 civil war was hacking off the limbs of civilians to terrorize them into submission. He has denied all 11 counts of murder, rape and recruiting child soldiers in the neighboring country.
Varmuyan Sherif, a former Taylor bodyguard. testified last year that he escorted pickup trucks to the border loaded with automatic rifle ammunition and rocket-propelled grenades. The court was shown a picture of Sherif with a truck allegedly photographed on the border.
"I say bluntly, it's a lie,'' Taylor said.
He also described as “ludicrous'' Sherif's allegation that he accepted diamonds from the Sierra Leone rebels, who sometimes sent them in mayonnaise jars.
"Liberia is a very rich country'' with abundant diamonds, gold deposits and uranium, Taylor said, adding that he had been negotiating with the U.S. company Haliburton to develop offshore oil reserves.
"It is beyond my imagination that anyone would believe that the president of Liberia would go into Sierra Leone because he wants to terrorize the people and take their wealth,'' he said.