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Top defender at Charles Taylor's war-crimes trial wants SAfrica's Thabo Mbeki to give evidence

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Charles Taylor's chief lawyer said Thursday he wants former South African President Thabo Mbeki to give evidence at the war-crimes trial of the former Liberian leader.

Courtenay Griffiths, Taylor's chief counsel at the Special Court for Sierra Leone in the Netherlands, told The Associated Press during a visit to Johannesburg that he wants to interview Mbeki and weapons makers in South Africa. He said he seeks details on Taylor's 2003 resignation and details on arms deals that Taylor may have made.

"It is suggested by the prosecution that Mr. Taylor did not step down voluntarily as president of Liberia — he was forced out of office by, among others, Thabo Mbeki," Griffiths said. "Mr. Taylor flatly denies that he was put under any pressure to step down."

Griffiths said Mbeki's evidence may support Taylor's credibility. He said the prosecution suggested that Taylor lied to the court about his resignation and the defense wants to prove that wrong.

Griffiths said has he asked Mbeki for a meeting.

But Mbeki's spokesman Mukoni Ratshitanga said the office has not received a request.

"We only learned about his wish to meet Mr. Mbeki in the media yesterday," he said.

Griffiths said he would not force Mbeki, who held the presidency from 1999 to 2008, to give evidence.

"I would not subject the former president of South Africa to indignity of being subpoenaed to give evidence in the criminal trial," he said. "As far as I am concerned if at the end of the day Mr. Mbeki decides that he doesn't want to, that's the end of the story."

He also wants to interview members of a committee that dealt with arms sales about the prosecution's suggestion that Taylor brought "blood diamonds" with him on a trip to South Africa in 1997, shortly after his inauguration. The prosecution believes some of the stones were used to broker an arms deal in South Africa.

"I think the then-justice minister who was on the committee has now declared there was not such a deal, which of course assists us as those who defend Mr. Taylor," Griffiths said.

Taylor has denied involvement in the diamond trade.

In August, supermodel Naomi Campbell told the court Taylor gave her several diamonds during that 1997 visit to South Africa.

Taylor said he is innocent of 11 war-crimes charges linked to allegations he supported rebels during Sierra Leone's 11-year civil war, which ended in 2002 with an estimated 100,000 dead.