Liberia: Finland Begins Hearing of Sierra Leonean Accused of War Crimes in Liberia

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Tampere — The actual trial of Gibril Massaquoi, a Sierra Leonean former rebel commander who is accused of committing war crimes in Liberia, began on Wednesday in the Finnish city of Tampere.

Massaquoi, 51, entered the Pirkanmaa District Court shortly after 10 am local time, wearing a gray pinstripe suit and a face mask. The session commenced with an official reading of the charges leveled against him by State Prosecutor Tom Laitinen.

A former commander of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), his charges include war crimes and crimes against humanity between 1999 and 2003. He is accused of committing and commanding the murder and rape of civilians. Among the murder charges is the killing of dozens of civilians and raping of seven women in the village of Kamatahun, Lofa County. The charges also include several allegations of cannibalism.

As the charges were being read, Massaquoi's attention was fixed on his court-assigned translator sitting next to him. A translator is tasked with interpreting the Finnish proceedings in English to him throughout the trial.

Massaquoi's defense team denies the charges. "The defense is based on written evidence," said Kaarle Gummerus, his lead lawyer, in a brief response . Speaking to Finnish reporters outside the courtroom, Gummerus repeated the defense's argument that Massaquoi was not present in Liberia during the time that the crimes allegedly took place.

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