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Taylor 'sympathises with victims'

Convicted war criminal and former Liberian president Charles Taylor said during his sentencing hearing that he sympathises with victims of the civil war in Sierra Leone he helped foment, and asked judges to render their sentence against him in a spirit of "reconciliation, not retribution".

However, he stopped short of admitting any wrongdoing, apologising for his actions or expressing remorse.

In a landmark ruling in April, judges at the Special Court for Sierra Leone found Taylor guilty of 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and conscripting child soldiers.

Judges at the UN-backed court said his aid was essential in helping rebels in Sierra Leone continue their bloody rampage during the West African nation's decade-long civil war, which ended in 2002 with more than 50,000 dead.

It was the first time a former head of state had been convicted of war crimes since the aftermath of the Second World War.

Taylor is due to be sentenced on May 30, with prosecutors demanding an 80-year prison term, and defence lawyers arguing he should at least be given a sentence that leaves him some hope for life after release.

"I express my sadness and deepest sympathy for the atrocities and crimes that were suffered by individuals and families in Sierra Leone," Taylor said. He insisted his actions had actually been done to help stabilise the region and claimed he never knowingly assisted in the commission of crimes.

"What I did ... was done with honour," he said. "I was convinced that unless there was peace in Sierra Leone, Liberia would not be able to move forward."

Judges found Taylor helped the rebels obtain weapons in full knowledge they were likely to be used to commit terrible crimes, in exchange for payments of "blood diamonds" often obtained by slave labour.

Prosecutors said there was no reason for leniency, given the extreme nature of the crimes, Taylor's "greed" and misuse of his position of power.

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