FILING FROM LIBERIA — Charles G. Taylor, the former president of Liberia and onetime powerful warlord, was found guilty of all 11 charges of crimes against civilians in Sierra Leone during that nation’s civil war in the 1990s. The verdict by a special court in the Hague Thursday had been eagerly anticipated here for weeks and is the topic of the day on the streets of Liberia.
The Liberian government as well as various media organizations here have called for peace in the aftermath of the verdict. Although Taylor has been widely condemned by various officials and many Liberians, a significant swath of the population here remains loyal to the former president.
Taylor, who served as president of Liberia from 1997 to 2003, was found guilty of crimes against humanity, including terrorizing the civilian population of neighboring Sierra Leone and recruiting children as soldiers. The civil war in Sierra Leone was seen as particularly ghastly because it included the mutilation of thousands of people and the wide use of children as soldiers.
Taylor’s conviction was not completely unexpected. Even before the verdict was announced, the United Nations Special Court for Sierra Leone, whose seat is in Freetown, had sentenced eight other members of rebel groups for various crimes in that country.
Despite the condemnation by many government officials, Taylor, who has maintained his innocence, is still seen by many here as a sympathetic figure, one who was convicted at the behest of the United States. And the highly anticipated verdict was widely considered a development that could inflame passions, perhaps violently.
Liberians seem to be deeply divided in their view of the former president. Some view him as a horrific warlord, even referring to him as butcher. Others say he did good work during his tenure and that he is the victim of an effort by the American government to convict him.
From taxi drivers and students to business people, it seemed nearly everyone in Monrovia was glued to the radio or television to hear the verdict by the court in the Hague. It has been the talk of the capital for days.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf appealed to the nation for calm. Meanwhile, police were deployed in large numbers on the streets of Monrovia in addition to United Nations peacekeeping forces.
In a statement from the Ministry of Information the government said it "acknowledges the verdict." The MOI added that the government was calling "on all Liberians, irrespective of our social and political difference, to respect the verdict of the Special Court and continue to pray for enduring peace and unity in the nation."
Taylor will be sentenced in the coming weeks. Although there is no death penalty in international criminal court, his jail term would likely be served in a prison in England.
Sando Johnson, a state senator who is also a spokesperson for the Taylor family, said that the former president has maintained a loyal following in Liberia during the six-year trial.
“The verdict is a political one organized by the Americans and the British,” Johnson said, in an interview with BET.com. “We are going to pursue the appeal process. We stand by Charles Taylor, til death do we part.”
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(Photo: PETER DEJONG/AFP/GettyImages)