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MONROVIA - Former Liberian president Charles Taylor's defence lawyer has called for the lifting of a UN travel ban on Taylor's former associates so they can testify in his war crimes trial.
Once one of Africa's most feared warlords, Taylor is now on trial before a UN-backed court in The Hague. He is accused of instigating murder, rape and mutilation by backing rebels during a decade of civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone.
The UN imposed travel bans in 2003 against members of his administration to prevent them from undermining a transition to democracy in Liberia after he fled the country at the end of its civil war.
"We have come here to see whether we can get witnesses and the proof that will be used in the interest of Taylor," his lawyer, Courtenay Griffiths, said in Liberia's capital of Monrovia on Wednesday.
"There is a climate of fear where those sympathetic to Taylor are afraid to speak out in case they too are targeted for sanctions. But ordinary Liberians should not be intimidated by these measures," he said.
Griffiths, has urged the court to delay proceedings again.
Taylor boycotted the opening of the trial in a dispute over the resources allocated to his defence, prompting judges to order the court to ensure Taylor had a full defence team by the end of July, ready to resume on August 20.
Griffiths said he had filed a motion with the Special Court for Sierra Leone, asking for the removal of the UN travel ban on certain Liberians, without specifying them.
"Africans cannot be mere spectators while a son of their soil, Liberia's previously democratically elected president, is on trial in a foreign land," he said.
"The Liberian people, who elected him by a landslide, have not been given an opportunity to have an input in the trial or to judge him through a democratic process."
Taylor, who triggered Liberia's civil war when he launched a rebellion in 1989, was elected president in 1997 during a lull in the brutal war.
More than 200000 people died in the brutal conflict.
Taylor's trial is being held in The Hague because of fears that his presence in west Africa, close to his former associates, could destabilise the region. - Reuters