Judges order to delay war crimes trial of former Liberian President

Judges ordered the war crimes trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor delayed until Aug. 20 as the defense would not have enough time to prepare for the first witness.

Taylor's landmark trial at the U.N.-backed Special Court of Sierra Leone started June 4 with the prosecution's opening statement and resumed last Monday.

But proceedings ground to a halt both times as Taylor first fired his court-funded lawyer, saying he wanted to defend himself, and then failed to show up in court.

On Monday, presiding judge Julia Sebutinde ordered the court's principal defender, an official whose job it is to see that Taylor gets an adequate defense, to find him a new legal team by July 31.

She also directed him to appoint an interim defense counsel to represent Taylor for the first witness's testimony, at hearings scheduled to run from July 3-11.

But in a joint motion Thursday both prosecutor Brenda Hollis and the interim defense attorney, Charles Jalloh, said it would be "in the interests of justice" to delay the trial's resumption until Aug. 20, when the new defense team should be in place.

Court spokesman Solomon Moriba told the Associated Press Thursday judges would explain the decision further at a brief hearing on July 3.

Taylor is accused of arming and funding Sierra Leone rebels who waged a campaign of terror in their country's 10-year civil war that ended in 2002. He has pleaded not guilty to charges including murder, rape, mutilation and conscripting child soldiers.