Taylor trial resumes with tales of brutality

Mon Jan 7, 2008 11:12am EST
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By Alexandra Hudson

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - A blood diamond expert and an account from a Sierra Leonean miner who said laughing rebels hacked off his hands and burned his family opened the war crimes trial against Liberia's Charles Taylor on Monday.

The former Liberian president, once one of Africa's most feared warlords, faces charges of rape, murder, mutilation and recruitment of child soldiers at the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, set up to try those behind the 1991-2002 war.

Taylor is accused of trying to gain control of the mineral wealth of neighboring Sierra Leone, particularly its diamond mines, and of seeking to destabilize its government by supplying the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels.

Prosecutors showed scenes from a documentary including a severed hand and the story of the diamond miner, who said RUF rebels cut of his hands and torched his house, killing his wife and children inside.

Their first witness, Ian Smillie, a Canadian expert on the trade in "blood diamonds" smuggled out of Africa to buy arms, said the RUF used brutality to frighten people away from diamond fields that earned them up to $125 million a year.

Smillie said diamonds were the primary source of RUF funding and most left Sierra Leone through Liberia. He added they could not have done so without the knowledge of Liberian officials, and the Liberian government supported the RUF at all levels.

He said the special light of diamonds from Sierra Leone meant they were worth around $200 per carat, compared to about $25-30 per carat for those from Liberia.

Smillie met Taylor in 2000 while investigating diamond smuggling as part of a U.N. probe. Taylor told him it was "highly probable" RUF diamonds were passing through the country but he had no specific knowledge of it, Smillie said.   Continued...

<p>Former Liberian President Charles Taylor sits in the courtroom of the International Criminal Court prior to the hearing of witnesses in his trial in The Hague January 7, 2008. REUTERS/Michael Kooren</p>