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18.02.2021 Liberia

Finnish judges in Liberia for landmark war crimes trial

On trial: Gibril Massaquoi, pictured in 2001.  By Georges GOBET (AFP/File)
LISTEN FEB 18, 2021
On trial: Gibril Massaquoi, pictured in 2001. By Georges GOBET (AFP/File)

Finnish judges began touring northern Liberia on Thursday, an AFP journalist said, as part of a first-of-a-kind trial of a warlord accused of committing atrocities during the country's civil war.

They are in the West African state to gather witness testimonies for a case against Gibril Massaquoi, a former senior member of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), a Sierra Leone rebel group that fought in Liberia.

Massaquoi, a Sierra Leonean national, has lived in Finland since 2008, but was arrested there in March last year after a rights NGO investigated his war record.

A case against the 51-year-old began on February 3 in the northern European country, where he is accused of responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed between 1999 and 2003.

Liberia.  By Valentina BRESCHI (AFP) Liberia. By Valentina BRESCHI (AFP)

But in a historic move, the Finnish judges are also hearing evidence on Liberian soil -- the first time war-crime proceedings have taken place in the country.

Around a quarter of a million people were killed between 1989 to 2003 in a conflict marked by brutal violence and rape, often carried out by child soldiers.

Judges visited the northern village of Kamatahun on Thursday, an AFP journalist saw, and are due to continue on to the nearby village of Yandohun.

Fighters under Massaquoi's command are accused of committing atrocities in both places.

They are due to hear evidence in the capital Monrovia next week.

There are periodic appeals to establish a war-crimes tribunal in the poor nation of five million people, where some ex-warlords remain powerful figures.

President George Weah has resisted the calls, however.