The presidency of the trial chamber has rotated, and Judge Theresa Doherty of Northern Ireland is presiding, having taken over from Judge Julia Sebutinde of Uganda. The presidency rotates each year.
Defense Counsel Terry Munyard continues cross-examination of prosecution witness Stephen Ellis.
Def: Yesterday you weren’t aware of two refernces I was putting to you. In Lansana Gberie’s book on the war in Sierra Leone, referenced in your report, he writes about Gen Julu’s campaign of violence. You weren’t aware of a specific reference to Taylor’s father being among the massacred in the 1990 church burning, referenced in Lester Hyman’s book. Going back to where we left off yesterday, I want to continue with background. I’d like to ask you about Mr. Taylor going to Libya. Do you have any verifiable detail as to when he was in Libya in the 1980s?
Wit: I’ve spoken to many Liberians who were in Libya in the 1980s and describe Taylor being there. I’ve seen photos of him there. I’ve also received accounts from at least one of the RUF leaders of the training camps there. My impression is that he wasn’t there for very long periods of time, but was moving between different places, including Burkina Faso. I’m talking about the years 1987-1990.
Def: You can’t say with certainty that he met Foday Sankoh there?
Wit: I believe that in one of the UN documents, Taylor is reported as saying that he know Sankoh there. I believe that was in one of the expert panel’s reports. I was also informed of this by one of the leaders of the RUF – not Sankoh. As a historian I would say there’s overwhelming evidence that Taylor was there, and it’s pretty clear he met Sankoh.
Def: I don’t dispute he was in Libya during that period. Regarding Pan-Africanism, there’s nothing sinister about the concept?
Wit: No, the concept has existed for a long time. As a modern political force it exists since the 1940s. It still exists formally in the African Union. It’s the notion that Africa should be unified.
Def: There were very strong movements within the OAU, particularly from President Nkrumah of Ghana?
Wit: The concept of Pan-Africanism as a political program was advanced notably by Nkrumah. It’s always been formally accepted by the OAU and AU. Many African leaders had no intention of supporting Nkrumah in realizing that goal.
Def: In Libya in the 1980s there weren’t just people from Liberia and Sierra Leone. There were people from Uganda, Rwanda, S. Africa, Namibia?
Wit: I’ve heard direct accounts of military training camps in Libya. I met a young man from Mauritius who was at the camps and told me about them. I’ve read accounts of Col Gaddafi having a revolutionary vision that led him to support a number of anti-American, ant-Western movements around the world. Many people came from around Africa to his camps in Libya.
Def: Amos Sawyer was there?
Wit: I wasn’t aware of the fact, but I don’t dispute it.
Def: Sawyer became the chosen president of the interim government in Liberia in the 1990s?
Wit: He became interim president in 1990.
Def: Ali Kabbeh too, who originally set up the RUF?
Wit: I’ve heard that name. I think it’s spelled Kabbah. I’ve spoken with a number of Sierra Leoneans about the origins of the RUF. Those origins remain a bit shrouded, but I’ve heard his name in that context.
Def: The NPFL incursion into Liberia in 1989 – you’ve written that the NPFL consisted of no more than about 100 fighters.
Wit: It’s difficult to define what’s meant by the NPFL at that time. Yesterday we discussed that due to the chaotic military politics follwoing the 1980 coup in Liberia, there was a bloody coup attempt in 1985 led by Thomas Quiwonkpa. Among the survivors of the defeat of that coup were people calling themselves national patriotic forces. Some of those who formed the NPFL were former associates of Quiwonkpa’s who fled to Burkina Faso and Libya, where they were training. The second component were political opponents of Samuel Doe, members of the Liberian political class. Taylor, Amos Sawyer and many others were in that category. Most of the Liberian political class left Liberia after 1985, many to the United States. Taylor went to the US in 1983 and was imprisoned at the request of Liberia on charges of embezzlement. He escaped from prison in the US in 1985, which was a felony under US law. That’s one reason he may have returned to W. Africa. These elements came together to broadly support the idea of a broad insurgency against Doe. Several attacks were being planned at the time of the NPFL attack in December 1989.
Def: The civil war included a number of groups?
Wit: A number of disparate groups were planning attempts. The one that attacked first was the NPFL.
Def: It’s right that if the US government had extradited Taylor to Liberia, there can be little doubt he would have been executed by Doe?
Wit: I think that’s highly likely.
Def: Gen Julu was sent to Nimba to crush the rebellion?
Wit: Doe sent a succession of generals to try to crush the rebellion.
Def: The NPFL originally wanted to invade from Sierra Leone and approaches were made to Sierra Leonean President Momoh and Momoh effectively sold out to President Doe in exchange for financial support?
Wit: There are good documentary sources, including the TRC report and former Sierra Leonean minister Abdul Koroma’s memoirs, that Taylor and others visited SL travelling on Burkinabe passports to request permission to attack Liberia from Sierra Leone. They were briefly detained in Pademba Road prison, then expelled from SL.
Def: Moving into 1990, the ECOWAS gathered together a military force to deploy in support of Doe in Libiera. That was essentially a decision by Nigerian President Babangida?
Wit: In a situation where everyone knew that Liberia was very volitile, there was an attack on the 24th of December 1989. Doe sent a series of forces to put down the uprising with brutality. As a result of the attack, the NPFL began spreading weapons to the civilian population. At this stage, the NPFL included a small core of trained insurgents, later known as the special forces, and thousands of armed civilians without training – some of them very young. There was no recognized single leader. I remember hearing Taylor speaking on BBC Africa. It was the first time I’d heard his name, and probably the first time many Liberians had heard of him. Others also claimed leadership of the NPFL. Rivals disappeared, presumably murdered by Taylor. The most important of these was Jackson Doe.
Def: This was a popular uprising?
Wit: Once the civil population was armed, they didn’t just attack the government, but any people suspected of supporting the government. These were largely identified by ethnicity. It was a very anarchic situation.
Def: That anarchic situation continued throughout the war?
Wit: I disagree. None of the factions had bureaucratic control, but later there weren’t the sort of freelance killings we saw in 1990.
Def: Then Nigeria sent their military?
Wit: The government had lost legitimacy and support. By May or JUne 1990, Doe controlled little more than part of Monrovia. The NPFL was spreading. Thousands of people were massacred, including the NPFL. A third movement formed under Prince Johnson, the Independent NPFL. He was an associate of Thomas Quiwonkpa’s. He was the training officer of the NPFL. He led the bulk of the trained fighters. The rest of the NPFL were largely untrained, armed civilians. Johnson’s group was most disciplined. He shot anyone he thought wasn’t obeying orders.
Def: ECOMOG was a Nigerian force uninvited by the Liberian government?
Wit: Doe had asked for help from the Nigerian government. The Nigerian government had believed the US would intervene in Liberia, and when this didn’t happen, Nigeria took action. In August 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait, and that changed the situation for the US.
Def: We know the US didn’t intervene. When ECOMOG came in, it acted with considerable force and brutality?
Wit: At the time, Taylor was becoming acknowledged as the NPFL leader. He made clear he would oppose ECOMOG and there was fighting in Monrovia upon ECOMOG’s arrival. Prince Johnson and the INPFL welcomed ECOMOG and provided them a base. It was a confused situation.
Def: After Doe’s death in September 1990, ECOMOG was conducting effectively a civil war against Liberian groups.
Wit: In the early months of 1990, Liberia had descended into anarchy. Groups of armed civilians were conducting arbitrary killings. There was the INPFL. A unit of the NPFL was led by Elmer Johnson. Doe’s forces were conducting massacres. After May 1990, there was a lot of international media attention. Atrocities were being conducted in front of television cameras. The media found it hard to understand. When America didn’t intervene, the Nigerians took the lead.
Def: President Babangida had business interests with Doe?
Wit: He did.
Def: There was an incident in 1992 when ECOMOG bombed civilians around Monrovia, perhaps killing 6,000 civilians during Operation Octopus?
Wit: Taylor’s forces launched Operation Octopus, and ECOMOG responded as you describe. I think the estimate of 6,000 deaths is rather high. Until August 1990, there were 3 parties: Doe, Prince Johnson leading the INPFL, and a disparate group of armed civilians claiming to act on behalf of the NPFL. Within the NPFL there were one or two trained elements. Charles Taylor had succeeded in physically eliminating his rivals within the NPFL, including Jackson Doe (no relation of Samuel Doe’s). He came from Nimba County and had support there. If America had been able to impose a peace on Liberia, they likely would have made Jackson Doe president. If the 1985 elections had been fair, Jackson Doe would have won. After ECOMOG landed in August 1990, it secured Monrovia by November or December 1990. It was allied with Prince Johnson. NPFL fighters were expelled from Monrovia. From the end of 1990 there was a de facto cease-fire. There was even quite a lot of trade going on between NPFL and ECOMOG fighters. In October 1992, the NPFL launched a surprise attack on ECOMOG called Operation Octopus.
Def: You’ve made reference to Taylor and the NPFL setting up a government called NPRAG. When was that established?
Wit: In mid-1990 (June-September) it was chaotic. ECOMOG arrived. Doe was killed in September. ECOMOG imposed its authority on Monrovia. There was an effective cease-fire. Taylor had eliminated his chief rivals in the NPFL. As the acknowledged leader of the NPFL he established the NPRAG from about the end of 1990. It was often called “Greater Liberia” because it covered most of the country outside Monrovia, perhaps 90% of the territory. Taylor started calling himself president.
Def: Once that government was established, there were other armed opponents besided ECOMOG?
Wit: Liberians who had fled, most to Sierra Leone or Guinea, some of them started to organize by early 1991. Most of the Liberian refugees were from specific ethnic groups, Krahn (Samuel Doe’s people) and Mandingo (seen as supporting Doe) because the NPFL was targeting them for violence.
Def: Mandingos are on both sides of the SL/Liberian border?
Wit: To be a Mandingo is to be a trader – it’s not like other ethnic groups in Liberia. Many traders were concentrated in Lofa County, whereas in Nimba County there might be only two or three traders in a village.
Def: The LUDF was set up?
Wit: Gen Albert Karpeh (ph) set it up. He was Doe’s ambassador in Freetown. He began organizing refugees and organizing them into the LUDF.
Def: The LUDF entered from Sierra Leone and also from Guinea?
Wit: I don’t believe the LUDF ever attacked Liberia. It fought in Sierra Leone. It later merged into ULIMO after first merging with other armed groups.
Def: I put to you that the LUDF was receiving financial support from the SL government.
Wit: I wasn’t aware of that, but it doesn’t surprise me. ULIMO certainly did receive support from Sierra Leone, and later Guinea.
Def: ULIMO invaded Greater Liberia?
Wit: Yes, but before it did that, it fought against the RUF in Sierra Leone. According to the SL TRC, the war in SL was largely started by NPFL fighters under Taylor’s command.
Def: The first step in the SL war was a radio broadcast by Foday Sankoh, who demanded that Momoh quit office and establish a more democratic government?
Wit: I’ve read accounts of that.
Def: Sankoh had been jailed in SL for opposing former SL President Siaka Stevens?
Wit: Yes. He served some years in prison, then got out of prison. According to Lansana Gberie, a friend of mine who met Sankoh at that stage, he was an embittered man struggling to make a living as a photographer.
Def: President had taken over from Siaka Stevens and was running a one-party state that was deeply unpopular?
Wit: SL was run by a party called the All Peoples Congress (APC) and Stevens arranged for Gen Momoh to succeed him. The APC was unpopular and Momoh was seen as weak.
Def: The SL bar association tried to bring about an end to one-party rule?
Wit: Yes. SL had been a multi-party state after independence. There were other well-established parties, notably the SLPP.
Def: Multi-party democracy was not restored, and then the RUF invaded?
Def: By 1992 there had been a falling out between the NPFL and RUF?
Wit: The TRC describes the first phase of the war in Sierra Leone as lasting until 1994 and being dominated by the NPFL.
Def: But by the end of 1992, the TRC describes a bitter dispute between the NPFL and RUF?
Wit: Yes. There was increasing tension. The TRC report describes the first leaders of the RUF as being disillusioned by the brutality of the Liberian fighters.
Def: The association was effectively terminated by the end of 1992?
Wit: That’s not what the TRC report says. There were increasing tensions.
Def: Meanwhile in Liberia, you had ULIMO fighting against Taylor in Liberia.
Wit: Operation Octopus was a milestone. ECOMOG controlled Monrovia while Taylor consolidated his power in Greater Liberia. In 1991-1992, the situation in Liberia was relatively stable while the war in Sierra Leone got underway. Taylor’s forces attempted to take Monrovia. ECOMOG replied with all the means at its disposal, including arming and supporting other elements of the population which it thought would be opposed to the NPFL.
Def: Meanwhile there was a transitional government in Monrovia headed by Amos Sawyer.
Wit: Yes, supported by Nigeria. That government got the support from many in the Liberian political class who were exiled from Liberia and wanted to return under the protection of ECOMOG.
Def: ECOWAS also supported the NPRAG?
Wit: The original ECOMOG intervention in Liberia was controversial. Other contries within ECOWAS, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast, opposed the intervention because they were close to the NPFL. This reflected an Anglophone/Francophone split based on colonial divisions.
Def: Then why did Francophones support the Anglophone NPFL?
Wit: The Anglophone/Francophone split was among the members of ECOWAS. Guinea was an exception.
Def: Efforts were being made by various states to bring about a compromise, but Nigeria blocked these because they didn’t want to see Taylor as president of Liberia?
Wit: Gen Babangida of Nigeria opposed Taylor and would not have supported any peace accord that saw Taylor as president of Liberia. In part this was because Nigerians popularly opposed Taylor after the NPFL hostage-takings and atrocities against Nigerians in Liberia.
Def: What other groups had control of parts of Liberia?
Wit: ULIMO as a surrogate of the SL governemtn to fight the RUF, and later moving into Liberia. ULIMO split into ULIMO-J and ULIMO-K. Other groups emerged, including the Liberian Peace Council. Some of these armed groups had support from neighboring countries, while they were supporting peacekeeping.
Def: In Liberia, the parties were able to reach a peace agreement once Babangida was replaced by Abacha in Nigeria?
Wit: Babangida left power in 1993, four years before the 1997 elections in Liberia.
Def: Eventually, hostilities ceased for the most part, allowing the organization of elections. ULIMO began to cease their hostilities?
Wit: We’re talking about a long period. After Operation Octupus, there was renewed armed conflict within Liberia, leading ECOMOG to support other armed groups opposed to the NPFL. Diplomatically, things were changing. Babangida left in 1993 to eventually be replaced by Gen Abacha in Nigeria. Abacha was less opposed to Taylor. The Nigerian and other W. African governments collectively realized that the war in Liberia was ruinous to the country and region. There was agreement that Taylor and other leaders had to be brought into a political settlement. There were many, but the key one was at Abuja in 1995. Taylor attended. Taylor was then able to go into Monrovia. From 1995-1997, armed factions fought each other in the countryside, while the leaders of the factions sat together in Monrovia.
Def: That led to 1997 elections accepted as free and fair?
Wit: The events of April 1996 are very important. The Liberian National Transitional Government was a unity government of warlords, including Taylor. It was a collective presidency. By a manipulation of Taylor’s, severe fighting erupted in Monrovia on 6 April 1996. It was the bloodiest battle of the war and the biggest in the region since the Biafra war. Taylor and Alhaji Kromah tried to take power by force. The smaller factions banded together in self-defense. ECOMOG didn’t know what to do and at one stage was arming both sides. The situation ended with a restoration of calm, further meetings in Abuja, and another agreement. A reinforced ECOMOG force came with some American support. The Nigerian government now accepted Taylor’s rise to the presidency.
Def: Taylor and his NPFL were engaged in a series of armed conflicts with various groups armed by ECOMOG?
Wit: The factions supported themselves through looting. They bought arms and ammunition from ECOMOG.
Def: Taylor became president in 1997, then came under attack by LURD and MODEL?
Wit: We’re skipping over too much. It’s not possible to clearly understand events without including some other details. After the events of 6 April 1996, there was acceptance by governments in W. Africa and the US that Taylor would likely win elections. He had support in some parts of the country and lead the largest faction. That happened. The hope of many people internationally and of many Liberians was that Taylor would use his new position to consolidate peace. That’s not what happened. In Dec 1997, close Taylor associate Sam Dokie and his family disappeared. He was murdered. I was in Liberia at the time, and people thought, “If he’s killing his own friends, what’s he going to do with everyone else?” ECOMOG forces were supposed to retrain the Liberian military and police under the Abuja accords, but Taylor rejected this. In September 1998 there was heavy fighting in Monrovia when opponents of Taylor were shot (they were likely planning a coup). Liberians in exile again started organizing and planning incursions into Liberia. The first time I heard of LURD was February 2000, in Conakry. MODEL (Movement for Democracy in Liberia) was created in Ivory Coast, and was a splinter of LURD. Liberian exiles representing largely ethnic constituencies were again being supported by neighboring countries, acting in their own interests.
Def: Turning to elements of your report…(References a page) You make a number of points about how Taylor organized his NPRAG government, and later after the 1997 government. You say his security apparatus was associated with foreigners. Is this an unusual feature in West Africa?
Wit: In varying degrees, this is common.
Def: You list people who were part of his security apparatus, including Kukoi Samboyan, a Gambian and Yanks Smart, also a Gambian. They were Vice President and Ambassador to Libya, respectively. Those aren’t positions in the security apparatus, are they?
Wit: I would say they are. Given the important role of Libya in arming Taylor’s government, Smart clearly was in an important security position.
Judge Doherty interrupts to say that it is time for the mid-morning break. Proceedings will resume at 11:30. With the half-hour delay to the media center here at the ICC in The Hague, our coverage will resume at 12:00.