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Liberian ex-warlord says he was backed by Guinea

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Young LURD rebels stand guard on August 19, 2003 at the southern entry to the river Po bridge 30 kilometres from Monrovia. The former leader of one of Liberia's main rebel groups which fought a bloody civil war that claimed thousands of lives said Tuesday he had been backed by neighbouring Guinea. (AFP/File)

The former leader of one of Liberia's main rebel groups which fought a bloody civil war that claimed thousands of lives said Tuesday he had been backed by neighbouring Guinea.

Launched from Guinea in late 1999 and led by Sekou Damateh Conneh, Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) sought to oust then president Charles Taylor and eventually forced him into exile in 2003, but the insurgents were accused of atrocities.

"I was fully supported by the Guinean government, I can say that. I got the support of Guinea because the Guinean borders were under constant threat from Charles Taylor's forces," Conneh said.

In the first confirmation by the former warlord of the widely held suspicion that his group had been aided by Guinea, Conneh said the support was "financial and logistical", but gave no details of the extent of the backing.

"The international community and the regional leaders wanted Taylor out of Liberia and I played a major role in doing just that," he told journalists at an event in the capital Monrovia marking 10 years of peace in the conflict-scarred west African nation.

Guinea remained relatively stable in the 1990s while Liberia was ripped apart by 14 years of successive civil wars until 2003, resulting in 270,000 deaths, with many civilians displaced and several thousand becoming victims of atrocities, according to the United Nations.

Numerous rebel factions raped, maimed and killed, some making use of drugged-up child soldiers, and deep ethnic rivalries and bitterness remain across the country of four million people.

In June 2003, LURD laid siege to the capital Monrovia during several bloody battles and was accused of firing mortar shells into civilian areas, killing dozens.

Two months later, Taylor bowed to pressure to go into exile and headed for Nigeria. He was finally arrested and transferred to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in The Hague in March 2006.

Ten years after the war, Taylor remains the only Liberian to stand trial, and that was for his role in neighbouring Sierra Leone's civil conflict, not that in his own country.

The former leader is appealing a 50-year prison sentence handed down in May last year for supporting rebels in Sierra Leone in exchange for blood diamonds during a civil war that claimed 120,000 lives between 1991 and 2001.