The Hague, 7 January 2008 (FH) - The trial of Charles Taylor will resume Monday 7 January before the judges of the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) with the testimony of the first prosecution witness.

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The former president of Liberia is accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed between 1997 and 2002, during the civil war which began in 1991, in Sierra Leone. Ian Smillie, a Canadian expert of the diamond industry, is the first of the 144 prosecution witnesses.

In addition to the trial of the former head of state, the first brought by international judges against an African president, this trial wil also be that of illegal diamond trafficking, according to the prosecutor, who prove that Taylor wanted "to seize the diamond riches" of Sierra Leone.

The expected difficulty of the prosecutor will be to establish the links between the head of state of Liberia and the war in the neighbouring country.

For the prosecutor, Taylor had used his reserve troops of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), whose leader, Foday Sankoh, he had met in a training camp of Libyan President Mouammar Kadhafi.

Taylor would have then armed, financed and trained the rebel army in exchange of diamonds.

Among the witnesses, 77 will be direct victims of the rebel crimes, eight will be experts and 59 will be called to testify the connection between Taylor and the crimes committed in Sierra Leone. Among them, will be "insiders", former associates of the warlords.

Concerning the witnesses, the defence lost, at least temporarily, a battle aiming to have the UN lift the sanctions imposed against acquaintances of Taylor, freezing of assets and a ban on travel.

The lawyers of the former president estimate that these sanctions could prevent a great number of defence witnesses from testifying at the Court.

The first defence interventions imply, without surprise, that Taylor will use political arguments to accuse, in his turn, those which supported him in his deadly adventures.

In August, Courtenay Griffith, Bar of London, notably evoked a letter from the personal records of the defendant, addressed by the former American President Jimmy Carter. The prosecutor has since tried to haveaccess to these archives, but was denied by the judges.

The former warlord, who had boycotted the opening of his trial on 4 June 2007, now has a solid team of lawyers and investigators, mostly paid by the special court.

The team receives 70, 000 US Dollars monthly in honoraries, to which is added nearly 30,000 US Dollars in various administration and investigation expenses.
The annual budget of the special court was increased in 2007 to nearly 36 million Dollars.

Indicted on 3 March 2003, Taylor had been in exile in Nigeria until 29 March 2006, where he was arrested then transferred to The Hague in June
at the mrequest of the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, according to whom, the trial of Taylor in Freetown constituted a risk of regional destabilization.

© Hirondelle News Agency