Global financial crisis 'could put end to civil war crimes tribunal'

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The former Liberian President Charles Taylor may walk free because the global financial crisis has cut donations to the court trying him for war crimes committed in neighbouring Sierra Leone, its chief prosecutor has said.

The UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone, which is pursuing those held most responsible for atrocities during the country's 1991-2002 civil war, faces a budget shortfall of more than $5 million from May, officials said.

Taylor, a warlord in a civil war in Liberia and later president, is being tried in The Hague due to fears a local trial may threaten regional stability. He denies all 11 counts of crimes against humanity and other charges including rape, enslavement and conscripting child soldiers younger than 15.

Taylor's trial, which began in June 2007, involves the same Special Court judges and prosecutors and he would stay indicted even if freed for lack of funds for his detention. Mr Rapp had said earlier this month a verdict could be expected early next year.

The Freetown session of the court is due to hand down its last verdict on Wednesday, in the trial of the three most senior surviving members of the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF).

Officials fear lack of funds will jeopardise the court, the first of its kind, relying on voluntary contributions from donor governments to foot the entire bill for the proceedings, estimated to run to $68.4 million for 2008-2010 alone.

The court is now turning to "a few countries in the Middle East" for funding, as well appealing to US President Barack Obama's new administration for speedy help to raise a further $30m to see it through to the end of 2010, Mr von Hebel said.

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