Liberia's Charles Taylor appeals at The Hague

Charles Taylor in court Charles Taylor has always maintained his innocence

Liberia's jailed ex-President Charles Taylor has started his appeal at a UN-backed special court in The Hague.

Last May, the court sentenced him to 50 years in prison for aiding and abetting rebels in neighbouring Sierra Leone during the 1991-2002 civil war.

Defence lawyers have called the verdict a "miscarriage of justice" and want the conviction to be quashed.

The prosecution, however, wants the sentence extended to 80 years, saying he also gave orders to the rebels.

In the court's original judgement, he was acquitted on these charges, with the judge finding that the prosecution had failed to prove its claims.

Taylor became the first former head of state to be convicted of war crimes by an international court since the Nuremberg trials of Nazis after World War II.

Throughout his trial, the former Liberian leader, who was arrested in 2006, maintained his innocence.

Last week Taylor, 64, reportedly wrote to MPs demanding a presidential pension of $25,000 (£15,600) in Liberia.

Describing the withholding of his state presidential pension as a "mammoth injustice", Taylor was quoted in the letter as saying that he was entitled to consular access and diplomatic services at The Hague, but he had been "denied that right".

'Heinous crimes'

The prosecution addressed the court first on Tuesday, reports the AFP news agency.

The court should "hold responsible not only those who perpetrate the crimes but also those who promote them", said prosecutor Nicholas Koumjian.

Taylor timeline

Sierra Leone-Liberia map

• 1989: Launches rebellion in Liberia

• 1991: RUF rebellion starts in Sierra Leone

• 1997: Elected president after a 1995 peace deal

• 1999: Liberia's Lurd rebels start an insurrection to oust Taylor

• June 2003: Arrest warrant issued; two months later he steps down and goes into exile to Nigeria

• March 2006: Arrested after a failed escape bid and sent to Sierra Leone

• June 2007: His trial opens - hosted in The Hague for security reasons

• April 2012: Convicted of aiding and abetting the commission of war crimes

• May 2012: Sentenced to 50 years in jail

• June 2012: His lawyers say he will appeal against his conviction

Taylor's lawyers have filed more than 40 grounds of appeal, arguing that the trial chamber's findings were based on "uncorroborated hearsay evidence".

"The colossal judgment, over 2,500 pages in length, is plagued throughout by internal inconsistencies, misstatements of evidence and conflicting findings," his lawyer Morris Anyah said in court papers quoted by AFP.

In court, defence lawyer Christopher Gosnell said: "There is nothing in the trial chamber's findings that would have allowed it to find that Charles Taylor knew that specific weapons or ammunition he had some role in providing would be used in a crime as opposed to a lawful purpose."

The court was set up in 2002 to try those who bore the greatest responsibility for the war in Sierra Leone in which some 50,000 people were killed.

It found Taylor guilty on 11 counts of war crimes, relating to atrocities that included rape and murder, and described by one of the judges as "some of the most heinous crimes in human history".

In return for so-called blood diamonds, Taylor provided arms and both logistical and moral support to Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels - prolonging the conflict and the suffering of the people of Sierra Leone.

Taylor started Liberia's civil war as a warlord in 1989, and was elected president in 1997. He governed for six years before being forced into exile in southern Nigeria. He was arrested in 2006 while trying to flee Nigeria.

The trial was moved to the Netherlands due to concerns that the case might spark fresh instability in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

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