Judge delivers Charles Taylor Sierra Leone atrocities verdict

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Media captionThe BBC's Alan Little meets victims of the conflict, a decade on

International judges have begun giving a verdict in the war crimes trial of former Liberian leader Charles Taylor.

Mr Taylor has been on trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, sitting in The Hague, for almost five years.

He is accused of backing rebels who killed tens of thousands during Sierra Leone's 1991-2002 civil war. They were notorious for using child soldiers and hacking off the limbs of civilians.

Mr Taylor denies 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

So far he has been cleared of charges of ordering war crimes, and of joint conspiracy in them.

The BBC's Mark Doyle in Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown, says that if Charles Taylor is found guilty and given a long prison term, Sierra Leone will breathe a collective sigh of relief; if he is acquitted, this country - and the whole West African region - will tremble with fear.

Child soldiers

Mr Taylor is accused of selling diamonds to buy weapons for Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front rebels (RUF).

They gained a reputation for using machetes and axes to cut off people's hands and feet. Often the atrocities were carried out by children.

Victims who have lost limbs blame Mr Taylor for stoking the flames of civil war.

The key point prosecutors had to prove in the trial was not whether Mr Taylor committed the acts himself, but whether he ordered, supported or condoned such acts.

Mr Taylor, a former warlord, was also instrumental in Liberia's slide into civil war in the late 1980s but is only on trial for events in Sierra Leone.

He was eventually elected Liberia's president in 1997 and governed until August 2003 when he was forced into exile in Nigeria.

He was eventually sent back to Liberia and taken to The Hague to face the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone.

The trial has been held in the Netherlands in case the hearings sparked fresh instability in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

If convicted Mr Taylor will become the first former head of state to be found guilty of war crimes by an international court since the Nuremburg trials of Nazis after World War II.

The court has heard from more than 100 witnesses, including the actress Mia Farrow and supermodel Naomi Campbell.

The prosecution wanted to establish a link between Mr Taylor and uncut diamonds which Naomi Campbell said he gave her in South Africa in 1997.

Correspondents say this is an important point, as the accused is said to have used so-called blood diamonds to pay for weapons for the rebels.

If Mr Taylor is found guilty, he is expected to go to a prison in the UK as the Dutch government only agreed to host the trial if any ensuing jail term was served in another country.

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