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War Crimes Court Grills Ex Liberian President About Human Skull Displays

Liberian ex-president Charles Taylor told a war crimes court Thursday he had seen nothing wrong with human skulls being displayed at checkpoints in Liberia during his 1989-90 "revolution."

"Former Liberian President Charles Taylor sits in the courtroom of the International Criminal Court during his trial on July 13."

"Skulls were used as symbols of death," he told judges of the Special Court for Sierra Leone trying him on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity stemming from the 1991-2001 civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone.

"These were not our people. Enemy soldiers had been killed and their skulls were used. I knew that, and it did not bother me."

The skulls were of soldiers killed in clashes with Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) which invaded Liberia from the Ivory Coast in 1989 to oust his predecessor, president Samuel Doe.

Taylor sought to draw a distinction between human skulls and fleshed human heads, calling it "a blatant, diabolical lie that I, Charles Ghankay Taylor or anyone would drive by a human head.

"These were only skulls that I saw and I would not have tolerated anyone killing and putting a human head up," he told the court.

The 61-year-old testified that skulls were displayed as a symbol "that death had occurred by the enemy" and to convey the message that "if you do wrong, this is the result."

Taylor argued that the skull was still used as a symbol by "western fraternal organisations".

"I saw them (at the checkpoints), I investigated... and came to the conclusion it was not anything wrong.

"I had also seen skulls in fraternal organizations that are western, I did not think there was anything wrong with a skull.

"We are not taking about skulls lying around all over the place", he added, but only "at certain strategic junctions."

Taylor denied, however, having ordered the setting up of skulls at checkpoints.

The former warlord took the witness stand on Tuesday for the first time since his trial started in January 2008, dismissing as "lies" the charges of murder, rape, conscripting child soldiers, enslavement and pillaging against him.

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