Former Liberian president Charles Taylor appeared 20 minutes late Tuesday for his first appearance in court since his war crimes trial started, and his last appearanceof the month as the judges announced adelay in the hearings.

The judges for the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone at The Hague agreed to postpone hearing the first prosecution witnesses until Aug. 20. The witnesses were originally scheduled to testify Tuesday.

Taylor has pleaded not guilty to 11 charges that he controlled and armed rebels who murdered, raped, mutilated and enslaved civilians during Sierra Leone's decade-long civil war, which ended in 2002.

He was due to enter pleas to two slightly amended charges later Tuesday.

The trial, which started June 4, sat twice that month. Taylor boycotted both days after firing his attorney and complaining he was not getting a fair trial.

This complaint led to Tuesday's announced delay. Prosecutors anda court official responsible for ensuring a fair trial filed a motion last week asking for the delay to give Taylor's new defence team — which has not yet been appointed — time to prepare.

The presiding judge, Julia Sebutinde of Uganda, blamed officials in the court's registry for not appointing new attorneys in time for the trial. She said Taylor "should not be penalized for the laxity of the registry."

Ordering an interim lawyer, Sebutinde said, "would indeed amount to a violation of Mr. Taylor's fair trial rights."

Prosecutor Stephen Rapp dismissed Taylor's concerns as administrative issues "blown out of proportion in order to create a reason for what we view as obstructive conduct in this case."

Prosecutors say they will call dozens of witnesses who will directly link Taylor to Sierra Leone rebels.

They claim Taylor shipped rebels arms, ammunition and supplies such as alcohol and drugs used to desensitize children forced to fight. In return he got diamonds, often mined by slave labourers.

The trial is expected to last 12 to 18 months.

With files from the Canadian Press