FREETOWN — Tears rolled down the face of double amputee Al Hadji Jusu Jarka as he welcomed a 50-year prison term for Liberia's former leader Charles Taylor for backing the Sierra Leone rebels who mutilated him.
"At last, justice has been done and Taylor has paid the price for the suffering and pain he caused us," said Jarka, who wears prosthetic arms after rebels in 1999 cut off both upper limbs while pinning him to a mango tree.
"The curtain has now been drawn on Charles Taylor. I hope he will be haunted by his deeds as he languishes in jail."
Jarka -- who like many in the capital has followed the trial closely -- said he would have liked to see some remorse from Taylor, convicted of aiding and abetting Sierra Leone rebels in exchange for "blood diamonds".
Taylor's lack of remorse was also highlighted by judge Richard Lussick, who said Taylor therefore should not benefit from any mitigation.
A stunned silence, and a few gasps, filled courtroom buildings in Freetown where hundreds had gathered in front of giant television screens to hear Taylor's fate, being decided at a court outside The Hague.
As the sentence was read out, those watching showed little outward joy. They had sat stonily as Lussick gave a harrowing account of the gruesome crimes committed during the 11-year conflict.
The audience included victims, leaders and civil society representatives.
Human rights activist Charles Mambu said of the sentence: "That's excellent! It shows that it's no longer business as usual. Us, as human rights defenders, we are happy over the sentence."
The government also welcomed the sentence.
"It is a step forward as justice has been done," said Deputy Information Minister Sheku Tarawali, adding that he hoped victims would find relief even "though the magnitude of the sentence is not commensurate with the atrocities committed."
Eldred Collins, a rebel spokesman during the war, is now the chairman of their political offshoot the Revolutionary United Front Party (RUFP).
He has maintained it was the former RUF leader Foday Sankoh, who died in custody in 2003, who should have had his day in court.
"We still feel Mr Taylor has been judged unfairly and (doesn't) deserve the sentence," he said. "It was the late Foday Sankoh and other Sierra Leoneans that fought the war."
In the Kailahun district - where rebels crossed over from Liberia in 1991 and began their reign of terror on villages -- reactions were of "relief for the Taylor saga to be put behind us", said the paramount chief, Cyril Gando.
Speaking to AFP by telephone, he recalled a phrase uttered by Taylor and often evoked in the country -- an angry Taylor had warned in 1989 that Sierra Leone would "taste the bitterness of war".
Taylor was reacting to west African troops using Sierra Leone as a base from which to head their operations in Liberia as he and his rebels invaded Liberia, sparking that country's 13-year civil war.
"Remember that Taylor once boasted that Sierra Leone will taste the bitterness of war," said Gando. "Now let him taste the bitterness of losing his freedom.
"Rebels for two years, 1999 and 2000, killed many of my people -- including my sons, who were beheaded because they refused to join his rebel group."
In the eastern city of Kenema, town chief Soriba Morlai said he was in a "celebrating mood as it is Taylor's day. We are in total support of the jail term."
The sentence, however, will have little impact on life in the crumbling, hilly capital, where people face a daily struggle to survive.
"What has Taylor got to do with me? The cost of basic foodstuffs continues to rise, and this is what interests me. Taylor got what he deserves, but it is none of my concern," said trader Ina Smith.
However, taxi driver Sayo Sisay exclaimed: "50 years jail? That means Taylor would unlikely leave jail alive."
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »