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Ex-Liberian leader denies looting Sierra Leone

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AMSTERDAM — Former Liberian President Charles Taylor on Monday challenged anyone to find a bank account of his holding illicit funds or "blood diamonds" from the civil war in Sierra Leone.

In his second week of testimony at his war crimes trial, Taylor denied any role in forming the guerrilla force that invaded Sierra Leone in 1991, that he helped plan the rebel incursion, that he trained the rebel forces or that he commanded their operations.

"I was never involved. It's a lie," he told the U.N-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone sitting in The Hague.

Taylor is charged with 11 counts of murder, torture and recruiting child soldiers for supporting rebels in Sierra Leone's 1991-2002 civil war, whose signature crime was to amputate civilians' limbs, ears and noses to intimidate the population into submission.

He is the first African head of state to be brought before an international court for war crimes.

Frequently agitated and thumping his desk, Taylor dismissed claims that he accepted diamonds in exchange for arms from Sierra Leone rebel leader Foday Sankoh.

"That never happened. It is blatantly untrue," he said.

Referring to allegations that he had stashed millions of dollars in foreign bank accounts, Taylor said: "I challenge the United Nations and any human being on this planet to bring one bank account" to the court. "Bring the millions here, please," he said.

On Thursday, President Barack Obama routinely signed a one-year extension to a 2004 executive order blocking Taylor's assets in the United States and those belonging to his wives, immediate family and senior officials of his regime.

The order said Taylor's "unlawful depletion of Liberian resources" and the spiriting of funds and property out of his country "continue to undermine Liberia's transition to democracy" and its political and economic development.

Allegations that Taylor was instrumental in creating and commanding the Sierra Leonean rebel force known as the Revolutionary United Front, or RUF, was a key element of the prosecution case, presented by 91 witnesses since the trial opened in January 2008.

"I played no part whatsoever in organizing the RUF, none whatsoever," Taylor told the judges. "I had no knowledge in March 1991, or before then, that a group calling itself RUF was either planning or organizing or training to attack Sierra Leone, not at all."

He acknowledged that he began cooperating with the RUF after meeting Sankoh for the first time five months after the incursion. Both his forces and Sankoh's were fighting a third rebel outfit known as ULIMO, which controlled a swathe of territory on their common border.

He said he gave Sankoh small amounts of ammunition, a vehicle for himself and sent men to Sierra Leone to join forces with the RUF against ULIMO.

Taylor, who staged his own assault in 1989 to oust Liberian President Samuel Doe, said that in 1991 he was still fighting remnants of Doe's forces as well as a Nigerian-led African peacekeeping force sent to put down his revolution.

"We did not send arms (to the RUF). We were still fighting and we needed everything we could get for ourselves," he said.

Taylor said he broke off all contact with Sankoh in May 1992 after Sankoh complained that Taylor's troops had murdered and raped civilians in Sierra Leone. The charge was true, he said, and the general in charge was court-martialed and executed.

But Taylor blamed Sankoh for failing to prevent fighting that erupted between their two forces, even though he had told the Sierra Leonean rebel leader that he was taking action against his guilty officers.

"I was upset. I was angry," he said, and ordered his men to withdraw back to Liberia. He said he never spoke to Sankoh again for seven years.

Taylor said the prosecution's accusations that he swapped arms for diamonds was an attempt to "demonize" him.

"They make you look like the scum of the earth so they can destroy you. I am a revolutionary and I have respect for myself," Taylor said.