Africa

Charles Taylor trial: Star witnesses, little clarity

US actress Mia Farrow testifying before the Special Court for Sierra Leone in the Hague, August 9, 2010
Image caption The testimonies of Ms Farrow and Ms White were at odds with Ms Campbell's witness statement

After Naomi Campbell stole the limelight at Charles Taylor's war crimes trial last week, no-one expected the same level of interest in the testimony of actress Mia Farrow and Ms Campbell's former agent, Carole White.

How wrong we were. The two witnesses kept the court occupied for more than five hours on Monday, and Ms White's testimony is still incomplete.

The evidence has been contradictory and at odds with what Naomi Campbell told the court on Thursday. But that is what has made it all the more compelling.

It is a heady mix, with a world famous fashion icon, a Hollywood actress, a warlord who became a head of state, and of course, illegally mined "blood diamonds".

Even the man who used to wear combat fatigues is more fashion conscious these days.

Charles Taylor chose to wear a dark tie with pink stripes today.

As was the case last week, he sat at the back of the courtroom, behind his defence team.

He was in court early, conferring with his lead counsel, Courtney Griffiths.

A security guard stood over them.

Mr Taylor has played no part in the current proceedings but rest assured he is listening carefully to every word from the witnesses.

Up in the public gallery, journalists were relegated to the rows at the back.

The view of the courtroom - a converted basketball court in a former Dutch intelligence building - was less favourable. Members of the press were unable to see the witnesses, except on the court's TV monitors.

Mia Farrow and Carole White were hidden from direct view beneath the mezzanine level.

The charity dinner that Nelson Mandela hosted in Pretoria in 1997 has been the main talking point since Naomi Campbell first appeared as a witness.

Remembering the finer details of what occurred 13 years ago has not proved easy for any of the witnesses.

Last week, Naomi Campbell seemed to have a somewhat hazy recollection of the occasion, claiming she had been exhausted by a week of foreign travel before she arrived in South Africa.

Mia Farrow began her testimony by describing fellow dinner guest Imran Khan as a soccer player. He is, in fact, a former Pakistani cricketer.

She seemed confused over the age of her 27-year-old son who had been with her in South Africa. And she had understandable trouble remembering the seating plan at the dinner.

By the end of her testimony, she was less sure that Ms Campbell had referred to "a huge diamond", or simply a large one.

Carole White began in an assured manner, telling the court that Naomi Campbell had been promised a gift of diamonds by Charles Taylor at the dinner.

However, she later added confusion to the story by conceding that the two unidentified men who handed over the uncut diamonds to Ms Campbell had not stated they had come bearing a gift from Charles Taylor.

Image caption Charles Taylor has been in court but played no part in the proceedings

One recollection about which Mia Farrow had no doubt was that Nelson Mandela's partner, Graca Machel, had tried to shield Ms Farrow and her three children from Mr Taylor when they arrived at the function.

"He's not supposed to be here... he should have left by now," was the way Ms Farrow remembered Ms Machel reacting, as she steered the Farrow family to one side.

There are still plenty of unanswered questions.

How was it that, according to Carole White, the two men delivering the diamonds were able to throw pebbles at a bedroom window of the government guesthouse - one of the most secure areas in South Africa?

Naomi Campbell remembers them simply knocking on her bedroom door.

The court will ultimately have to decide what to make of all the conflicting accounts.