Attired in a blue suit and a yellow tie, the former Liberian President, Charles Taylor has for the first time turned up before the war crimes tribunal in The Hague. He had earlier refused to appear before the court, crying foul that he would not be judged fairly.
Appearing before the judge, the 59-year-old former rebel leader was told that his case would have to wait until 20 August. Mr Taylor had earlier abandoned his attorney, so the delay was meant to appoint a defence team for him, the judge said.
He was however asked to enter his plea. "I plead not guilty, your honour," Taylor said.
Mr Taylor had earlier pleaded innocent before the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Freetown in March 2006.
Mr Taylor was late for 20 minutes, which was attributed to problems of transport from his prison to the court.
It is not known whether his earlier complaints had been addressed by court.
Julia Sebutinde, who presides over the case, said the defence team should be given adequate time to prepare, otherwise it would violate Mr Taylor's fair trial rights and the effective cross examination or challenging of witnesses by the defence.
Mr Taylor was accused of manipulating the UN-backed court. The court however supported his revolt,admitting some mistakes, which include a surveillance camera in a room while the accused was speaking to his attorneys. The judge also alluded to the existence of some kind of disorganisation involving court officials.
The court has to foot the bills of Mr Taylor's legal defence. But he said his legal team should be of the equal calibre with those of the prosecution team, which is full of powerful international lawyers.
He was indicted on 11 charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and violations of international humanitarian law for his allegedly fanning the decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone.
His charges involve murder, terrorism, sexual violence, physical violence, using child soldiers, providing guns, money and training to the Revolutionary United Front rebel group, which in turn gave Mr Taylor diamonds in exchange.
After expressing fears that the trial might lead to mounting tensions in Sierra Leone and Liberia, the Special Court for Sierra Leone was moved to The Hague last year. This is the first time a former African head of state appears before the UN tribunal for trial.
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