Former Liberian leader Charles Taylor, who on Monday became the first African ex-president to answer war crimes charges in the UN-backed special court in Sierra Leone, pleaded not guilty to all the indictments.
The first court appearance of the 58-year-old ex-warlord, who was arrested and transferred to Freetown last week barely 36 hours after escaping from his villa in exile in Nigeria, started at about 3:00 p.m. (1500 GMT) and lasted about one hour.
Taylor, wearing a dark suit and brown tie, pleaded not guilty to the 11 indictments for atrocities committed during Sierra Leone 's 1991-2002 civil war, which were read to him by Judge Richard Lussick.
He is accused by the special court of arming Sierra Leone's rebels, notorious for recruiting child soldiers and amputating the limbs of innocent women and children, in return for "blood diamonds."
"Most definitely, your honor, I did not and could not have committed these acts against the sister republic of Sierra Leone," he said, according to television footages.
"I think that this is an attempt to continue to divide and rule the people of Liberia and Sierra Leone and so most definitely I am not guilty," Taylor added.
Chief Prosecutor of the court, Desmond de Silva, said in a statement that Monday's court appearance of Taylor marked the first phase of the trial.
"The people of Sierra Leone have been waiting patiently for three years to see the accused finally face the Trial Chamber here at the Special Court. Today this has happened," he said.
"Today also marks an important step in the administration of international criminal justice. Those who commit atrocities and violate international humanitarian law will be held accountable."
"Now that the Defendant has pleaded not guilty to all counts, it is up to the Prosecution to prove its case," Silva added.
The court's spokesman, Peter Andersen, in an e-mail to Xinhua said Taylor required legal aid as he is broke to the wide now.
"Now the Defense Office will work to secure defense lawyers for him. He filed a declaration of means and, based on that, the Principal Defender has concluded that he is partially indigent," Andersen said.
The actual trial, however, is expected to begin at least months later, as the court had called for a change of the trial venue to The Hague for the west African region's stability.
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had also said that the court in The Hague would be a "more conducive environment" for Taylor's trial. But Taylor reportedly preferred to be tried in Sierra Leone.
Taylor accepted Nigeria's offer of safe exile in August 2003 when rebels besieged Monrovia, as part of a deal to end his homeland's 14-year-old civil war that claimed about 250,000 lives. His attempt to flee last week after Nigeria agreed to return him to Liberia was soon aborted.