Fri, May 16, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Witness says Taylor rebels trained at camp in Libya


Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi’s government ran a military training camp in Libya in the 1980s that prepared Charles Taylor’s troops to seize power in the West African nation of Liberia, a key witness at Taylor’s war crimes trial testified on Wednesday.

Moses Blah, who served as vice president under Taylor after he came to power in Liberia, is the highest-ranking witness to take the stand against his former boss since his trial began early this year.

Taylor has pleaded not guilty to charges that include murder, rape, torture and enlisting child soldiers during Sierra Leone’s 10-year civil war, which ended in 2002. Prosecutors allege he orchestrated the atrocities from his power base in Liberia’s capital Monrovia.

Blah said he was among about 180 rebels recruited by Taylor and flown to Libya in the late 1980s to undergo months of military training. The fighters learned to use AK-47 assault rifles and surface-to-air missiles at a military camp near Tripoli, he said.

Rebels from countries including Gambia, the Philippines and Sierra Leone were also at the camp, Blah said.

Taylor’s forces entered Liberia late in 1989, triggering a civil war that lasted years and left thousands dead.

After Taylor grabbed power in Liberia, Qaddafi continued to support him, Blah said, sending Taylor’s regime a shipment of crude oil to sell so the proceeds could be used to buy “military hardware.”

Blah was subpoenaed to testify and had originally been slated to give evidence anonymously, but he later decided to speak in open court despite a death threat e-mailed to his family.

In an example of the brutality of the conflict in Liberia Blah said one rebel commander, “had a habit of eating fellow human beings” and that fighters only joined his unit if they were prepared to take part in cannibalism.

Blah said he once visited the commander, Nelxon Gaye at a camp in a rubber plantation and found him roasting human hands. “He did it over a fire and he ate it with boiled cassava.”

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