1:30 Cross-examination of prosecution witness Varmuyan Sherif begins

Lead defense counsel Courtenay Griffiths himself will conduct the cross-examination of prosecution witness Varmuyan Sherif. 

He has passed out copies of all of the witness’s contacts with Special Court prosecutors, which the prosecution had previously disclosed the defense.  He says all of the documents are in chronological order. 

Griffiths tells Sherif: Will begin with questions of your background, then general matters, then particular details of the evidence you’ve given.

Defense points to a document from February 23, 2005, recording an interview with the witness.

Def: It says you were born in 1968, which makes you 39, is that right?

Wit: Yes, correct.

Def: Your mother was born in Sierra Leone, right?

Wit: Yes.

Def: How close to the border?

Wit: Very close.

Def: Your tribe?

Wit: My mother is Mende, father Mandingo.  My father was born in Liberia.

Def: With ULIMO, you had the nickname “Godfather”, didn’t you?

Wit: Yes.

Def: The leader of LURD was your brother, wasn’t he?

Wit: His name was Siah Sherif.  Not by brother.  I know him, but not a relation.  His nickname was Cobra.  We do not spell our surnames the same way.  He was one of my junior officers in the SSS.

Def: So you commanded him?

Wit: No.

Def: He’s not your brother?

Wit: No.

Def: Abu Keita is your cousin, isn’t he?

Wit: No.  I am telling the truth.

Def: This morning you said you’d attended a meeting with him and another “because you wanted to make sure he was in good hands”.  Is that because he was your cousin?

Wit: No.

Def: The frontier between Liberia and Sierra Leone is artificial isn’t it, because the same people live on both sides>

Wit: Yes.

Def:  So tribes are artificially split?  Mandingos live on both sides?

Wit: Yes, I agree.

Def:  For centuries, people have been moving back and forth over that imposed frontier, haven’t they?  People flow in each direction without hindrance?

Wit:  Yes, I agree.

Def:  Same language is spoken on both sides?

Wit:  Yes.

Def: They inter-marry across that boundary, like your parents did?

Wit: Yes.

Def:  And in that area on the border, they use the Liberian dollar?

Wit: Yes.

Def: The dialect of English spoken on both sides is the same, isn’t it?

Wit: No, they speak the same languages, but different dialects when speaking English.

Defense is now showing a map.

Def: The road from Monrovia to Fasana, and on to Guinea, much of the country to the left of that line is forest, isn’t it?

Wit: Yes, deep forest.  Between Gbarpolu to Kolahun is deep jungle.  From Kolahun to the border are coffee and cocoa farms.  Forest does not extend all the way to the SL border.

Def: You told us when you went to get Bockarie for Taylor, you used the green route (from Monrovia to Gbarnga, to Zorzor, to Kolahun – five miles to a junction, to Vahun, then across the border to Bomoru.)  The green route stops at Kolahun.

Prosecutor objects that from Kolahun the witness took the yellow, not the green route.  Defense is arguing with the witness.  Judge Sebutinde agrees.

Defense is trying to establish that he used a paved road.  Def: The only paved route from Monrovia north is the green route, right?

Wit: No, the yellow too.

Def: Why did you need 4-wheel drive vehicles on it in the rainy season?

Wit: It is a forest road – mountain to mountain.  The green route is more paved an better.  Yellow route is slippery in rainy season.

Def: Do you understand what I mean by “tar”?  Is the yellow route a tarred road?

Wit: No.

Def: It was just a track through the jungle?

Wit: No, the red route was a track-road.  This was my area, and I used vehicles.

Def: Do you agree that the red route is basically a foot path?

Wit: As far as Fassama, we used vehicles.  From Fasana to Kolahun was a foot path.

Def: From Fasana to Voinjama?

Wit: That’s a vehicle road.

Def: From Kolahun to Beudu on the green route, it continues?  Isn’t it easier to enter Guinea and re-enter Sierra Leone – which is the way you say you came back with Bockarie?

Wit: I went through Voinjama.  I knew that route because it was my mother’s area and I knew the people there.  Bockarie requested the other route back.

Def: Map has been titled by the Office of the Prosecutor “RUF main supply routes”.  Did you tell the OTP that these were RUF main supply routes?

Wit: There are three main routes.  (Witness shows them on map.)

Def: Did you direct the drawing of these lines on the map?

Wit:  I assisted in showing the various that the RUF was using between Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Def: Did you tell the person interviewing you, please draw this line to show how the weapons to the RUF?

Wit:  I said these routes were the routes for ammunition to take to the RUF.

Def: It was as a result of what you said to the OTP that these lines were drawn?

Wit: It was drawn by my advice.  I showed the routes.  I was sure of it and I showed them.

Def: Did you intend to show the basic means to get from Monrovia to Kolahun, or did you intend to show how the RUF moved weapons and ammunition?

Wit: I said these routes were used to take arms from Mr. Taylor to the RUF.

Def: Are these the only routes to take from Monrovia to Kolahun?  If I wanted to transport a sack of potatoes to Kolahun, would I have to use these routes?

Wit: I would take the green, then the yellow route.

Def: Those are the roads that connect those parts of the country, the only ones available to travel from Monrovia to Kolahun?  It’s just a road-map of Liberia?

Witness is explaining which roads to use when, and how best to get between various towns.

Def: Using your life as a timeline, I want to ask about major dates in the region’s history from the late 1990s to early 2000s. 

Defense points to a record of an interview with the witness over two days in July 2007.  Also present in the room was prosecutor Brenda Hollis and Joseph Saffa.  At the bottom of the page, it says that between the ages of 5 and 15 you lived in Voinjama.  Because you were born in 1968, when you were 15, that was 1983.  On the next page you say between the ages of 15-17 years, you were attending school in Kakata.  Then in 1990 you were in the 12th grade when the fighting started.  Were you still in school when you were 22? 

Wit: I was in Kakata, attending school when the war came and everyone started running.

Def: If you were still at school in 1985, then there’s missing 5 years.

Wit: I left the school to learn Arabic in Kakata.  Later I continued my schooling. 

Def: Between 1985 and 1990 you were learning Arabic?

Wit: No, I don’t remember the actual years.  I dropped the school to learn Arabic, then later went back to English school in Kakata.

Def: You were still in school when you were 22?

Wit:  I don’t know.  I don’t know how old I was in 1990. Through the war years, I lost track of the years.  I have problems with years and have to constantly refer to documents to remember the years of what happened during the war.

Def: How old were you in 1990?

Wit: I don’t know.  I only have by birth certificate.

Def: You fled to Monrovia, and you lived for a time in Chocolate City, where your father had a home?

Wit: Yes.

Def: You later fled the NPFL again, from Monrovia to Voinjama?

Wit: Yes.  When I heard the NPFL took Kakata, I decided to flee to Voinjama.

Def: Then you had to flee the NPFL a third time?

Wit: Yes.

Def: Then you fled a fourth time from teh NPFL to Sierra Leone.

Wit: Yes, near Bomoru, Sierra Leone.

Def: Then you had to flee again, to Kenema?

Wit: Yes.

Def: How long did all of this last?

Wit: Until the end of 1991.

Def: How long were you underway?

Wit: About a month.

Def: So you were constantly on the run?

Wit: Yes.

Def: So you really hated the NPFL and the leader of the NPFL?

Wit: Yes.

Def: Who was the NPFL leader?

Wit: Mr. Taylor.

Def: And it’s because of that hatred, isn’t it, that you told the prosecutor that in 1992 “I became one of the first members of the LUDF.”?

Wit: That’s not the reason.  I had been pushed into the war.

Def: You felt you had every right to take up arms against the NPFL?

Wit: I had been pushed against the wall, and I wanted to go back.

Def: Who armed, supported and funded the LUDF.

Wit: Sierra Leone.  They provided arms, uniforms, ammunition, and food.

Def: You were a Liberian in Sierra Leone, being funded by the SL government to fight against the force in Liberia?

Wit: No, that was not the instruction.  Our instruction was to push the NPFL out of Sierra Leone.  But we had our own agenda.  We continued when we got to the border because we wanted to go home.

Def: The LUDF lasted for about six months, then became ULIMO.  Was ULIMO in its initial form still being supported by the Sierra Leonean government?

Wit: Yes.

Def: What was the purpose of ULIMO?

Wit: The organization was expanding, bringing together forces from Guinea and Liberians.  Men came from Sierra Leone also.  Sierra Leoneans worked alongside ULIMO, but didn’t cross into Liberia with us.  ULIMO still existed in Sierra Leone for a time.

Def: ULIMO had a lot of success against the NPFL and RUF at this time, didn’t it?

Wit: Yes.

Def: Because with SL backing, you were better equipped?

Wit: We were equipped with ammunition.  We did not have helicopter support.  Trucks brought us ammunition and artillery.  SL government provided artillery.  The leader of SL at the time was Joseph Momoh.  We had RPGs also supplied by the SL government.

Def: You felt ULIMO was fighting both the RUF and NPFL?

Wit: Yes.

Def: So it wouldn’t surprise you that 1991-1992, there was cooperation between the RUF and NPFL?

Wit: It did not surprise me.  I knew they were cooperating and continued to cooperate.

Def: In 1990, do you recall that ECOMOG entered Liberia?

Wit: Yes.

Def: And they stayed until 2000?

Wit: Yes.

Def: That was until the last arms were burned in Liberia, and many weapons recovered from former combatants were destroyed by burning?

Wit: Yes.

Defense points to another document, of November 2006 – interview with the witness in Monrovia – interviewed by Prosecutor Alain Werner and Janet Tommy.  Def: Your bodyguard as commander at the time you were a Brigadier General was Ansumana Kamara.

Wit: He was in my batallion, but was not my bodyguard.

Def: Was he a truthful man?

Wit: I remember his name, but I don’t know him well.

Def: Was he a truthful man?

Wit: I don’t remember his attitude or what he did in the batallion.

Def: Is he a man you would trust given you were comrades in arms.

Wit: No, because I don’t remember him.

Def: In 1992 ULIMO invaded Liberia, right?

Wit: Yes.

Def: Why?

Wit: Liberians had been pushed against the wall and we wanted to go back to our homes.

Def: Did you want to kick the NPFL out of Liberia and take control of the country?

Wit: No.  We wanted to go home.

Def: That’s the only reason they were fighting?

Wit: Yes.

Defense is now pointing to another document, points to a passage reading that it was easy for ULIMO as a mainly Mandingo and Muslim to get assistance from Guinea to fight in Liberia.  In 2007, were you telling Ms. Hollis the truth?

Def: So LUDF was backed by Sierra Leone, and at the time of the invasion of Liberia, ULIMO was backed by Guinea, right?

Wit: LUDF and ULIMO had support of Sierra Leone.  When we moved to Lofa, we got support from Guinea.  SL government did not support ULIMO inside Liberia.  We divided ourselves in two.  The SL government gave us ammunition to fight in Sierra Leone, and we took that into Liberia.

Def: When you want to invade a country, you need to stockpile a lot of arms and ammunition, don’t you?

Wit: We captured a lot of NPFL arms and ammunition in Lofa.  Not everything came from outside assistance.  You do need to stockpile weapons.

Def: Who provided the stockpile?

Wit: ULIMO had a former ambassador, Albert Kappeh, we had Alhaji Koroma based in Conakry.  I was just a batallion commander who received instructions from them.

Def: You were appointed as a field commander after crossing the border, weren’t you?

Wit: No, a batallion commander.

Def: No, you told…

Defense counsel is searching for a document.

Def: You were never a field commander?

Wit: I was a field commander in Liberia, after we opened the Po River to Monrovia.

Def: Yes, my fault.  You remained in ULIMO until 1997, didn’t you?

Wit: Yes.

Def:   Yesterday you explained the locations that were captured by ULIMO after crossing the border. 

Witness confirms capturing a number of towns.

Defense asks witness to indicate on a map of Liberia an outline of the greatest extent of ULIMO control.  The witness explains ULIMO’s military progress into Liberia.  He shows that ULIMO controlled the counties of Grand Cape Mount, Bomi, Gbarpolu, Lofa and parts of Margibi and Bong.  Defense is now asking him to draw a line on the map to show where the boundary of ULIMO control was, not including places they only held briefly and then retreated from.  The witness outlined an area that appears to encompass Lofa, Gbarpolu and Grand Cape Mount Counties. 

Court has now adjourned for the lunch break.  Proceedings will resume at 2:30.  With the half-hour delay in the video and audio feed to the media center, we will continue this live-blog at 3:00 (2:00 in Sierra Leone and Liberia).