A defense witness for Charles Taylor this week told Special Court for Sierra Leone judges in The Hague that there was no exchange of arms and diamonds between Sierra Leonean rebels and Mr. Taylor and that while the Sierra Leonean rebels were trained in a territory under control of Mr. Taylor’s rebel forces in Liberia, they did not receive any assistance from the former Liberian president. Another witness also this week told the court that while he never saw Liberian rebels among Sierra Leonean rebels who attacked his hometown in Sierra Leone, Mr. Taylor did invite Sierra Leonean rebels to Liberia sometime in 1995. Prosecutors now say that Mr. Taylor lied under oath when he testified that he had not relationship with the Sierra Leonean rebels after 1992.
Mr. Taylor is responding to allegations that he provided support to Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels, a group which waged a bloody war in Sierra Leone from 1991 to 2002. In refuting prosecution allegations against him, Mr. Taylor this week had two witnesses, both former members of the RUF, testify on his behalf.
On Friday, Martin Flomo George, a Liberian national and former Brigade Commander for the RUF, dismissed as false allegations that Mr. Taylor supplied arms and ammunition to the RUF with instructions to attack the diamond rich town of Kono. Several prosecution witnesses have testified before the Special Court for Sierra Leone that Mr. Taylor gave instructions, backed by arms supplies, to RUF commander Sam Bockarie for the capture of Kono in 1998.
On Friday, Mr. Taylor’s defense counsel, Morris Anyah, asked the witness whether Mr. Bockarie had said “anything about receiving instructions from Charles Taylor to attack Kono.”
“Sam Bockarie never told us anything in relation to Charles Taylor,” Mr. George responded.
The witness added that Mr. Bockarie never told them about receiving arms and ammunition from Mr. Taylor for the recapture of Kono, as alleged by prosecutors.
“Charles Taylor had his own problems to solve. He never told us anything about Charles Taylor giving us ammunition or sending us ammunition to recapture. No,” Mr. George said.
The witness added that the arms and ammunition used by the RUF to attack Kono in 1998 were bought from the United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO) rebels, a rival rebel group to Mr. Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebel group. Mr. George said that shortly before the attack on Kono in 1998, ULIMO commander, Abu Keita, delivered boxes of ammunition to Mr. Bockarie, who was at the time based in Sierra Leone’s eastern town of Buedu in the Kailahun District. The witness’s account about ULIMO selling arms and ammunition to the RUF corroborates an account given by a previous defense witness on the same subject.
Also in his testimony on Friday, Mr. George denied prosecution claims that diamonds mined by the RUF were taken to Mr. Taylor in Liberia. The witness said that he never heard of diamonds being taken to Liberia. As far as he knew, Mr. George said, all diamonds mined by the RUF were given to RUF commander, Issa Sesay, who in turn took them to Mr. Bockarie. Prosecutors claim that diamonds given to Mr. Bockarie were taken to Liberia and handed over to Mr. Taylor.
“All I know, all diamonds were given to Issa and from Issa to Sam Bockarie,” the witness said.
“Nobody ever told me that they were taking diamonds to Charles Taylor for arms or ammunition or food or what have you. All I knew was that I was focused on my frontline and the miners were focused on their mining. I did not have anything to do with the mining activities. I only had business with my frontline,” he added.
On Thursday, Mr. George told the court that neither Mr. Taylor, nor any member of his NPFL, ever visited the base where Sierra Leonean rebel forces underwent training in Liberia. Mr. George said after he decided to join the RUF before the invasion of Sierra Leone in 1991, he was taken to the RUF training base at Camp Nama in Liberia, where he met other Liberians and Sierra Leoneans also undergoing revolutionary training. This did not mean that Mr. Taylor and his NPFL rebels supported the RUF rebels during their training at Camp Nama, however, Mr. George said. Instead, the portion of Camp Nama where RUF rebels were trained — called “Crab Hole” — was cut off from other groups there. Mr. George said he never saw Mr. Taylor at Camp Nama, corroborating a previous defense witness’ testimony about “Crab Hole”.
“When I was training at Camp Nama under the RUF, I never heard about Charles Taylor in Camp Nama,” the witness added.
Asked whether he ever heard of RUF leader Foday Sankoh meeting with NPFL commanders at Camp Name, the witness said “I never heard about that and I never saw it,” the witness said
In his testimony on Wednesday, however, Mr. George said that while the RUF underwent training at a particular section of Camp Nama — which he said was a big military barracks — an NPFL artillery unit was also undergoing training at another section of the camp. He did not say that the two groups interacted with each other.
Also in his testimony on Thursday, Mr. George said that when RUF rebels completed their training at Camp Nama in 1991, they did not have any weapons to attack Sierra Leone. He said that as they advanced to enter Sierra Leone, they came across a bundle of arms and ammunition at the Liberian border with Sierra Leone. These weapons, the witness said, were used to attack Sierra Leone. He said they did not know who put the weapons there.
Earlier on Monday, another defense witness for Mr. Taylor, a Sierra Leonean national and former spokesperson for the RUF, Fayia Musa told the court under cross-examination that when RUF members attacked his hometown in Kailahun District in eastern Sierra Leone in 1991, he did not see Liberians among them.
Mr. Musa’s account contradicted that of his fellow defense witness, John Vincent — also a former member of the RUF — who had previously told the court that Liberian nationals constituted a huge percentage of the RUF group which invaded Sierra Leone in 1991.
As prosecutors pointed out to him that his account differed from that of Mr. Vincent, Mr. Musa, while still casting doubt on Mr. Vincent’s account, explained that his account was based on his personal contact with the RUF in 1991. (Mr. Musa has previously told the court that he was a teacher in his hometown of Kailahun who joined the rebels voluntarily when they attacked and captured him).
“The reason I have to doubt it [Vincent’s account] is the fact that those who captured me, those who captured us in Kailahun, were not NPFL. The group which met us in Kailahun, they told us they were RUF, they spoke to us in our language in Mende, most of them, some of them spoke to us in Kissi,” Mr. Musa said.
He added that “I cannot really say that Vincent, I cannot tell whether he was lying or not, but the group which met us was RUF.”
Prosecutors have alleged that Mr. Taylor was involved in a joint criminal enterprise with RUF leader Mr. Sankoh and that in pursuit of such enterprise, Mr. Taylor provided support to the RUF through the supply of materials and man power to attack Sierra Leone in 1991. Prosecutors say that this support continued throughout the conduct of the war which only ended in 2002. Mr. Taylor, while denying the prosecution allegations has said that he only provided minimal support to the RUF in 1991 when he realized that a rival rebel group, ULIMO, was attacking him in Liberia with help from the government of Sierra Leone. He then joined forces with the RUF, who were fighting to dislodge the Sierra Leonean government, as they had a common enemy at that time, Mr. Taylor said. The former president said that his association with the RUF ceased in 1992.
This account was brought into question when on Tuesday Mr. Musa told the court that sometime in 1995, Mr. Taylor invited the RUF leadership to visit him at his NPFL base in Liberia. Mr. Musa, however, added that the said invitation did not have anything to do with the RUF receiving military advice or support from Mr. Taylor.
Mr. Musa said that RUF leader Mr. Sankoh initially turned down the invitation, but at the behest of several senior RUF commanders, Mr. Sankoh allowed the RUF to visit the former Liberian president. Many RUF commanders, including the witness himself, were enthusiastic about the visit, Mr. Musa said. He said that prior to the visit, the RUF did not know why Mr. Taylor had invited the RUF delegation to Liberia. This raised a question from the Presiding Judge of the Trial Chamber, Justice Julia Sebutinde, about why the rebel forces were enthusiastic about visiting Mr. Taylor.
“You didn’t even know the reason why Taylor had invited you. Why were you bending over backwards to go against the will of your leader to visit someone that hadn’t stated the purpose?” Justice Sebutinde asked the witness.
“Well, we knew that he would not invite us into security problem at all. We also knew that he was his friend,” Mr. Musa responded.
As prosecutors sought to know what the RUF hoped to achieve from the visit, Mr. Musa explained that “We did not know what we were going to get. First of all, we never knew Charles Taylor before. So one of the reasons why I wanted to go there was to see him, for the first time in my life. Secondly, I wanted to see what actually he called us for, come what may.”
In response to whether the RUF were “hoping for military support” from Mr. Taylor, the witness said that “In fact, if I knew that it was for military support, I would not go.”
This account by Mr. Musa sits in tension with other accounts given by Mr. Taylor and defense witnesses that after the fall-out between the RUF and Mr. Taylor’s own rebel group, the NPFL in 1992, Mr. Taylor no longer had any contacts with the RUF. It will be left with the judges to determine the weight to attach to any account given by specific witnesses.
On Wednesday, prosecutors said that Mr. Taylor lied under oath when he said that RUF leader Mr. Sankoh only visited him in Liberia for a few days, but did not stay there for months during the civil conflicts in both Liberia and Sierra Leone. This claim by prosecutors came after Mr. Musa told the court that at some point during the conflict in Sierra Leone, RUF leader Mr. Sankoh spent about six months with Mr. Taylor at his NPFL headquarters at Gbarngha in Liberia.
Prosecutor counsel Nicholas Koumjian said this account by Mr. Musa contradicted Mr. Taylor’s own account. The former Liberian president, during his own testimony, had denied suggestions that Mr. Sankoh used to stay at NPFL headquarters at Gbarngha. Mr. Sankoh was only a visitor there for a few days, Mr. Taylor had told the court. According to Mr. Musa, this was not the case.
“You see Mr. Witness, I believe you told us the truth – I believe Charles Taylor lied under oath,” prosecution counsel, Mr. Koumjian, said to the witness.
“He [Mr. Taylor] was asked “did Foday Sankoh base with you in Gbarngha?” He [Mr. Taylor] answered, “well again, Foday Sankoh was not based with me in Gbarngha.” He was asked “please explain what you mean when you say he was not based with you in Gbarngha.” And he answered, “well to be based means to be permanent from my understanding, so it was not permanent. If your question is, he visited me in Gbarngha, yes, but he was not based with me in Gbarngha, no,” Mr. Koumjian said, recounting to the witness the earlier exchange with Mr. Taylor.
Mr. Koumjian asserted that Mr. Taylor lied in his testimony when he said that Mr. Sankoh would only spend a few days with him at Gbarngha and then he would return to Sierra Leone.
“So we see here, Mr. Taylor lies and says that Foday Sankoh would only stay two or three days. You told us that Fooday Sankoh and Mr. Tengbeh went to Gbarngha for six months before they returned to Sierra Leone, isn’t that correct?” Mr. Koumjian asked the witness.
In his response, the witness said that “it is correct.”
“They [Mr. Sankoh and Mr. Tengbeh] were there up until the end of the Top 40.”
The operation code named Top 40, according to Mr. Taylor and several witnesses, marked the end of collaboration between Mr. Taylor’s NPFL and the RUF in 1992. Prosecutors, however, allege that the relationship between Mr. Taylor and the RUF continued even after 1992 and that the former Liberian president continued to provide support to the rebel forces in Sierra Leone. With Mr. Taylor’s support and advice, prosecutors say that the RUF committed widespread atrocities against the civilian population of Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor has dismissed the allegations as false.