Former insider to testify against Taylor

( AP ) - An insider once close to Charles Taylor will testify that the toppled Liberian president had links to militias who rampaged through Sierra Leone, the chief prosecutor said Friday.

Taylot's war crimes trial, adjourned last June after a chaotic opening session, resumes Monday with a broad sweep of testimony, from a victim to the insider witness, alleging that Taylor was stripping Sierra Leone of its diamonds and resources while orchestrating horrendous atrocities against its people in the early 1990s, said chief prosecutor Stephen Rapp.

Rapp said the prosecution has lined up more than 140 witnesses to testify at the trial, which will mark the first time a former African head of state faces an international court.

"This is an important test for international justice," said Rapp. "It will have ramifications throughout the world."

Taylor, 59, is charged with 11 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, rape, looting and recruiting child soldiers. The prosecution says the atrocities were committed by militias under Taylor's command or influence during Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war that ended in 2003. He has pleaded innocent to all charges.

Outlining the prosecution strategy, Rapp said the third witness would be a Liberian who was close to Taylor when he was in power. He will be the first of nearly 60 prosecution witnesses summoned to draw links between Taylor and the militias who rampaged through Sierra Leone.

According to reports from the region, the militias, often child soldiers, ate the hearts of slain enemies and decorated checkpoints with human entrails. They sliced open pregnant women and bet on the sex of the unborn child.

The defense does not contest that crimes were committed, but says Taylor was not responsible.

It was not clear if the witness would allow disclosure of his name or, like most insider witnesses and many victims, will testify with the court banning the publication of his identity. He already has fled Liberia because of threats, Rapp said.

He would be preceded by a victim and an expert on international development who would describe the plunder of Sierra Leone's resources and the international trade in "blood diamonds," which Rapp described as one of Taylor's motives for stoking the civil war.

Rapp said he hoped about half his witness list would testify in writing rather than appear personally. Prosecutors were negotiating with the defense team on which witnesses could submit depositions without facing cross-examination.

Defense attorney Courtenay Griffiths, who was appointed by the court after Taylor fired his first lawyer in June, has said he saw no point in bringing victims to testify in court.

Rapp said he has summoned 77 victims or other witnesses to establish that crimes had occurred in each of several regions mentioned in the indictment. He expected only 10 to appear in court.

"We will try in this early phase to lay out in broad strokes the basis of our case, and also the human element," Rapp said.

"We have a strong and compelling case," he said, but "we expect it to be challenged vigorously" by the defense.

The trial by the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone was moved from Freetown to The Hague for fear it could ignite tensions if it were held in the region.

Taylor, who has claimed he has no money, was being given about $100,000 a month for his defense, Rapp said, but the tribunal might recover those funds if what he described as Taylor's hidden assets can be found. The court's total budget last year was $36 million.

The trial is expected to last until the end of 2009, and the outcome will almost certainly be appealed, said Rapp.

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