Charles Taylor’s lawyer wants evidence from Mbeki

2010-09-17 07:53

Charles Taylor’s chief lawyer said he wants former South African President Thabo Mbeki to give evidence at the war-crimes trial of the former Liberian leader.

Courtenay Griffiths, Taylor’s chief counsel at the Special Court for Sierra Leone in the Netherlands, told The Associated Press during a visit to Johannesburg yesterday that he wants to interview Mbeki and weapons makers in South Africa.

He said he seeks details on Taylor’s 2003 resignation and details on arms deals that Taylor may have made.

“It is suggested by the prosecution that Taylor did not step down voluntarily as president of Liberia – he was forced out of office by, among others, Thabo Mbeki,” Griffiths said.

“Taylor flatly denies that he was put under any pressure to step down.”

Griffiths said Mbeki’s evidence may support Taylor’s credibility.

He said the prosecution suggested that Taylor lied to the court about his resignation and the defence wants to prove that wrong.

Griffiths said he has asked Mbeki for a meeting.

But Mbeki’s spokesperson Mukoni Ratshitanga said the office had not received a request.

Griffiths said he would not force Mbeki, who held the presidency from 1999 to 2008, to give evidence.

“As far as I am concerned if at the end of the day Mbeki decides that he doesn’t want to, that’s the end of the story,” he said.

He also wants to interview members of a committee that dealt with arms sales about the prosecution’s suggestion that Taylor brought “blood diamonds” with him on a trip to South Africa in 1997, shortly after his inauguration.

The prosecution believes some of the stones were used to broker an arms deal in South Africa.

Taylor said he is innocent of 11 war-crimes charges linked to allegations he supported rebels during Sierra Leone’s 11-year civil war, which ended in 2002 with an estimated 100 000 dead.

Meanwhile, in a twist of irony, Mbeki gave a public lecture at the Tshwane University of Technology yesterday, in which he stated that Africans need to redouble their peace efforts to ensure the continent is not wrecked by the conflicts that saw millions of Africans killed in the past 50 years.

He pointed out that as South Africans went to the historic polls of 1994 to bring an end to white minority rule, the Rwandan genocide was in full swing.

“Our people need to stand up and say no to war. It is the ordinary people who are going to die. Far too many Africans have died at the hands of other Africans,” he said.

Asked by a student what had “gone wrong” with African leadership, he said that many of Africa’s leaders had entered government to see what they could get and not what they could do.

He cited Mobutu Sese Seko as being the worst example and that “clearly there are smaller Mobutus” who had also exploited their position for personal gain.

At the start of his lecture, officials had to throw out a heckler who tried to disrupt proceedings.

The man entered the Theunis Bester Hall shouting vulgarities and telling Mbeki to leave.

The man was able to reach the stage and throw a poster at Mbeki’s feet before he was tackled and bundled out of the hall.

Mbeki shouted “Amandla” and promptly continued with his lecture on war and peace in Africa.

Prior to the disruption, Mbeki received a rousing welcome from a packed hall.

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