April 17, 2008
In the first full day of direct examination by Prosecutor Shyamala Alagendra, witness Alimamy Bobson Sesay testified that he had been an officer with the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) after it seized power in Sierra Leone in May 1997. He described his various positions in the AFRC and movements before his arrest in 2000. Much of his testimony today covered how the AFRC was organized, its relationship with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), and identification of key individuals in the AFRC and RUF. The witness also provided testimony about elements of the crime base covered in Charles Taylor’s indictment. However, today he offered only one anecdote linking Taylor to support for the AFRC/RUF, which he testified had been responsible for these crimes.
Background on the witness
Sesay continued his account from yesterday by reviewing his various ranks and positions in the Sierra Leone Army from the time of the May 1997 military coup. He said he had been an Orderly Corporal at State House, which is the president’s residence in Freetown, immediately following the coup. About a month later, he was assigned as a Military Transport Officer and security guard for one of the 17 coup leaders, or members of the AFRC Supreme Council: Hassan Papa Bangura, alias “Bomb Blast”. Sesay held the position of Military Transport Officer until June or July 1998.
Sesay testified that in September 1997, he had been promoted to Sergeant. He said that he remained in Freetown until the ECOMOG intervention in February 1998 that drove the AFRC/RUF forces from the capital. Bangura made him a Regimental Sergeant Major after the intervention. He described a series of movements from Freetown, through the towns including Kabala, Lunsar, Masiaka and Makeni, eventually leading to his arrival as part of an AFRC/RUF invading force in Koidu Town, Kono district. The witness said that AFRC and RUF leaders wanted to make Kono into a new headquarters because of the diamond wealth there.
Alex Tamba Brima, aka “Gullit”, promoted Sesay to Second Lieutenant. Following a “problem”, SAJ Musa subsequently demoted him to Sergeant, but made him an acting Captain in reward for his bravery after the capture of Masiaka. From July 1998, he was assigned as the personal security guard to Hassan Papa Bangura and also fought as a battlefront commander. Sesay said that after SAJ Musa died, Gullit promoted him to Lieutenant in December 1998. He served as an intelligence officer and battlefront commander for one battalion before being assigned as battlefront commander of another. Gullit promoted the witness to Captain on the day of the successful Freetown invasion, January 6, 1999. The witness said he participated in the Freetown invasion, and had been a combat officer in most of the battles there. After the AFRC/RUF forces were driven from Freetown at the end of January, Ibrahim “Bazzy” Kamara promoted Sesay to Major, and made him an aide-de-camp (ADC) to Hassan Papa Bangura. From this time, the witness said the group headed by Kamara, with Bangura as second-in-command, was referred to as the “West Side”. (Other witnesses have referred to the “West Side Boys”.) The witness said he remained a Major and ADC to Bangura until they both were arrested on June 6, 2000.
The junta period
After reviewing Sesay’s ranks and movements throughout his time with the AFRC, Prosecutor Alagendra returned to May 1997, the time of the AFRC coup. The witness recalled hearing a series of announcements over the radio: that officers were to report to barracks, that the military had taken over, and that a dusk-to-dawn curfew had been imposed. Soon after, he heard RUF leader Foday Sankoh on BBC radio saying that the RUF should join the AFRC junta and take orders from junta leader Johnny Paul Koroma. Thereafter, the witness heard RUF spokesman Eldred Collins on the radio saying that the RUF had indeed come to Freetown to join the government and take instructions from Koroma. Finally, he heard Koroma himself on the radio announcing the members of his Council.
Sesay listed most of the names of the 17 coup leaders who formed the AFRC’s “Supreme Council”. He said that the Council soon expanded, and was then just known as the “AFRC Council”. The expanded council included top RUF commanders. Foday Sankoh was named vice chairman of the AFRC, but he was detained in Nigeria at the time, so SAJ Musa served as acting deputy chairman. Among the members were Santigie Borbor Kanu, Ibrahim “Bazzy” Kamara, and RUF commanders Sam Bockarie (“Mosquito”), Issa Sesay, Morris Kallon, Dennis Mingo (“Superman”), Isaac Mongor (20th prosecution witness), and Mike Lamin. Beyond members of the AFRC Council, the witness described other appointments he remembered Johnny Paul Koroma making to various positions.
Prosecutor Alagendra introduced a number of documents through the witness, which he said were various decrees on appointments that he had seen in 1997, shortly after the coup. He said that because the AFRC Council member to whom he was assigned – Hassan Papa Bangura – was illiterate, Bangura would routinely bring the council documents to him to read and explain following meetings.
Asked about the relationship between the AFRC and RUF at the time, Sesay said it was very good, and throughout his testimony he described mixed AFRC/RUF brigades, a unified command under Koroma, and joint operations. In describing events in 1997 and 1998, he gave detailed evidence about which commanders had been present at various locations.
In the course of his testimony, the witness spoke of many crimes he had witnessed and some in which he had participated.
Sesay testified about diamond mining in Kono district, where he said that Koroma had sent Alex Tamba Brima, alias “Gullit”, to bring order to AFRC and RUF mining operations. He testified that civilians were forced to mine at gunpoint, which he said he had seen himself in Kono and heard about in Tongo.
During the junta period, Sesay told of a three-day student strike against AFRC/RUF rule, and said that the troops had been sent to quell the demonstrations. He said he was with a group of AFRC men who shot and killed two students. Many students were taken to Pademba Road Prison. Other students were attacked elsewhere in Freetown, and he testified that back at the military headquarters after the demonstrations had been crushed, some AFRC and RUF fighters laughed and told of raping and killing nursing students.
The witness testified that when he was in Masiaka on the retreat from Freetown in February 1998, he and various commanders heard Johnny Paul Koroma on BBC radio announcing “Operation Pay Yourself”. Sesay said Koroma explained that since being ousted from Freetown by ECOMOG forces he could no longer pay his soldiers, so he was ordering them to loot whatever they wanted from civilians. Sesay said that after that announcement there had been a “continuous looting spree”. He admitted, “Between my God and myself, I participated in the looting”. He said that where he was, civilians were captured and forced to carry loads of looted goods to the town of Makeni. He also witnessed looting in Lunsar, and saw civilians being forced to carry loads for RUF and AFRC commanders from Lunsar to Makeni. In Makeni itself, the witness said that he went with his boss, Hassan Papa Bangura, and Ibrahim “Bazzy” Kamara to break into a bank and steal money from a safe. He described rampant looting from shops and civilians in the town.
Sesay described a meeting of AFRC/RUF commanders convened by Johnny Paul Koroma in Koidu Town, Kono district shortly after AFRC/RUF forces captured it in March 1998. At the meeting, which the witness said he attended, Koroma explained that the civilians of Kono were against them. He said the area should be made a no-go zone for civilians: their houses should be burned, the able-bodied should be put to work, and all other civilians should be executed. The witness said Koroma also announced that he was going to meet Charles Taylor in Liberia to get arms and ammunition, which he felt would be forthcoming because these would help them to secure diamond-rich Kono. Sesay said that Issa Sesay (no relation) of the RUF rose to say that Koroma’s plan was good, agreeing that houses should be burned and that all non-able-bodied civilians should be executed. The witness said that after this meeting, he went with Hassan Papa Bangura, other AFRC members, and RUF members to Yardo Road in Koidu, where they encountered a group of civilians and shot them all dead. Sesay said he could not remember how many people they had killed. They then displayed the corpses at road junctions because the chairman (Koroma) had said they should create fear so that other civilians wouldn’t come to Koidu.
Following the morning break, Sesay brought to the attention of the judges that he was having problems with a court official from the Witness and Victims Section (WVS), who he said had been treating him like a prisoner. He said his dispute with her was causing him to be “stressed, tormented and worried”. Sesay was willing to proceed with the questioning once Presiding Judge Teresa Doherty assured him that the bench took his concerns very seriously, would raise the issue with the registrar and head of WVS, and ensure that a different officer dealt with him for the time being.
Shortly before the end of the Court day, when Sesay was naming AFRC and RUF members assigned as military supervisors in 1998, he spoke of an Idrissa Kamara and said Kamara also went by another name. However, the witness said he didn’t want to provide the nickname for security reasons because Kamara was now a close protection officer for Sierra Leone’s new president (Ernest Bai Koroma), and remains more commonly known by his wartime nickname. After brief deliberation, the judges ordered Sesay to state the nickname. The witness said it was “Leather Boot”, a name already mentioned by previous witnesses in the trial.
Proceedings will continue tomorrow at 9:30 a.m.