'Rebels had the habit of eating human beings'

THE HAGUE - Liberian rebels cooked and ate human innards while serving under warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor, his former deputy testified on Wednesday at the exiled leader's war crimes trial.

THE HAGUE - Liberian rebels cooked and ate human innards while serving under warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor, his former deputy testified on Wednesday at the exiled leader's war crimes trial.

A member of Taylor's presidential guard, Nelson Gaye, "had the habit of eating fellow human beings", former vice-president Moses Blah told the special court for Sierra Leone, a war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.

"I saw one incident with my own eyes. I visited a camp ... he roasted the hands of a human being, then ate them with boiled cassava," Blah said in a testimony that also detailed a key link between Taylor and rebels in Sierra Leone's civil war.

He said Gaye and his men also cooked human intestines and ate them with cassava. "You could not enter the unit without doing that." Gaye was the head of the marine unit of Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia, a movement founded in the 1980s with the aim of invading the West African country to drive out its then leader.

Blah said he himself had been in charge of supplying arms to Taylor's fighters for their coup attempt in 1989. Blah, 61, was the 27th witness in the trial of Taylor, the first head of an African state to be tried by an international court. Blah briefly led the country in 2003 after Taylor was forced into exile in Nigeria.

The court hoped his testimony would shed light on Taylor's alleged support for the former rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which ravaged neighbouring Sierra Leone in a 1991-2001 civil war, leaving 120000 dead.

Blah testified that Taylor met the future head of the RUF, Foday Sankoh, in the camp, where they were received by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Gaddafi gave Taylor about R4 million after the Liberian was elected president in 1997, said Blah, who was ambassador to Tripoli at the time.

Taylor faces 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and recruiting child soldiers in connection with the rebellion. He pleaded not guilty to all the charges, and sat taking notes during the testimony.

Taylor allegedly funded and armed the RUF in exchange for diamonds and other resources, while rebels terrorised civilians by cutting off arms, legs, ears and noses, leaving thousands mutilated. - Sapa-AFP

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