Former RUF Radio Operator: Taylor Gave Orders, Arms and Ammunition to RUF

The Hague

April 8, 2008

The Prosecution today led a former Revolutionary United Front (RUF) radio operator through his evidence, and he testified to close communication between RUF commanders and the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), including its leader, Charles Taylor. Shielded from public view by a screen and visible on video only with distortion, protected witness TF1-516 described arms and ammunition shipments to the RUF ordered by Taylor, as well as recounting that Taylor gave orders to senior RUF commander Sam Bockarie around the time of the January 1999 invasion of Freetown.

Training with the RUF

Late yesterday the witness began his testimony by telling of his abduction by Liberian members of the RUF when he was 17 years old. Prosecutor Mohamed Bangura picked up the questioning this morning with additional questions about the training base in Kailahun to which the witness was taken. The witness testified that he had spent about three months at the Ahmadiyya Secondary School base. He said that all of the recruits had been civilians, many of them students, and that they had not been free to leave. Anyone caught escaping would be killed, as he said happened to a colleague, whom he said was shot and beheaded by one of the trainers, Rambo, to set an example. The witness named the previous prosecution witness, Isaac Mongor, as being one of the trainers at the school. The witness was subsequently moved to another secondary school base. When the number of recruits swelled to around 5,000, the group was divided between bases at two school campuses. The witness said that boys under the age of 20, such as himself, were put in “Small Boy Units” (SBU’s), and girls under 20 were placed in “Small Girl Units” (SGU’s). Later in the day he testified that he had seen boys as young as 10-12, and girls who were 15-16 years old. Women recruits over 20 years old were placed in a unit called Women Army Commando Soldiers (WACS).

At the training base, witness TF1-516 said they had learned how to move on the front line, and had been taught to send civilians captured at the front to the rear for military training because the RUF was in need of “manpower”. Prosecutor Bangura asked what he had learned of the RUF leadership at the time, and the witness said that there were two elements of the RUF: “Special Forces” who were Taylor’s NPFL fighters, and “Vanguards” who had been trained in Liberia under Foday Sankoh before the invasion of Sierra Leone. He was told that Sankoh would be coming and that [Charles] Ghankay Taylor was providing support.

Following his training, the witness said he was sent to the front and promptly wounded when a bullet severed the tendon in his ankle. After three months in a Sierra Leonean hospital with no improvement, Sankoh came and transferred him and other difficult medical cases to the northwestern Liberian town of Foya. He said he spent six months there and that there was much improvement.

Becoming a radio operator

The witness stated that in 1992-1993, after his convalescence in Foya, he was sent first to Koidu, then to Buedu, where he spent nine months charging batteries in the radio station because he still couldn’t walk. He then received a pass to go to his village to seek native treatment for his injury, but once there he was arrested by RUF men for being absent without leave. He was sent to Gema, where he again spent time charging batteries.

By 1994 he was in Kangari Hills, assigned to a unit that took care of ammunition, when a friend recommended him for signal radio training because he could read and write. He received three months of training in Kangari Hills before jet attacks forced an evacuation. RUF leader Foday Sankoh ordered the group to come to him at Zogoda, Kenema District. Sankoh continued the training of the witness and his colleagues himself, and it took a further six months.

The witness described the radio training, saying it had covered procedures, “pro signs”, codes, and operation of the radio device. The Prosecution showed a notebook, which the witness confirmed was a hand-copy of his notes from the training, made by another recruit after his original copy had become too worn.

The Court heard detailed, at times technical descriptions from the witness about how the RUF radio network functioned, including an example of how messages were encoded and decoded. The witness described how the codes were developed, why they were periodically replaced, and how this was done.

Assignments in Sierra Leone and Liberia

The witness completed his training in late 1995 or early 1996 and was then assigned to stay at the RUF headquarters station at Zogoda together with the station sergeant Sahr James (“Zedman”), working directly under Sankoh. There, he received situation reports from RUF field commanders for Sankoh. In November or December 1996, Kamajors overran Zogoda, and the RUF, including the witness, went to Giema. The witness was arrested upon his arrival there because during the retreat he had not managed to rescue a satellite phone and fax machine that Zedman had brought back from Ivory Coast, where he had accompanied Sankoh to peace negotiations. The witness was then posted to Buedu, where he stayed from 1996 until 1997 when the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) took power in Freetown. In Buedu, the witness worked for Sam Bockarie (“Mosquito”). The witness described Bockarie’s initial radio call sign, and said that in 1999, two looted NGO vehicles were brought from Voinjama, Liberia, and each was converted into a mobile radio unit and assigned a separate call sign – both for Bockarie.

After the May 1997 coup, the witness was sent to Kono to collect acid for the car batteries the RUF used to power their radios. In Kono he was assigned to oversee a diamond mining site, and he stayed in Kono until the AFRC/RUF junta was dislodged by ECOMOG forces in February 1998. Before leaving, he testified that a commander named Gullit ordered AFRC/RUF forces to undertake “Operation Pay Yourself”, the large-scale looting of Kono. The witness was sent back to Buedu, before being assigned for 2-3 months to a unit near the Liberian border that provided military escorts to RUF commanders. He then returned to Buedu, where he was one of the operators of Sam Bockarie’s radio. He remained there until June or July 1999, when RUF commander Issa Sesay ordered him to go to Liberia.

The witness said that he was sent to Liberia in order to send and receive messages between Liberian Special Security Services (SSS) Director Benjamin Yeaten in Liberia and Sesay and Bockarie back in Sierra Leone. He said he stayed in Liberia until late in 2001, when he was accused of communicating with the Kamajors and had to flee for his life. He returned to Sierra Leone and was beaten in the town of Tongo before fleeing to join Sierra Leone’s Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Program.

Testimony on links between the RUF and Liberia

Witness TF1-516 testified that when he first arrived in Buedu from Kono in early 1998, Sam Bockarie mustered the RUF men there and announced that on a visit to Liberia, Charles Taylor had promoted him to the rank of General. Bockarie was wearing new military fatigues, which the witness later learned were the uniform of the Liberian Anti-Terrorist Unit, and had a new military vehicle, which he said Taylor had given him.

The witness stated that from the time he was in signals radio training at Zogoda, he had been aware of radio communications with Liberia. He overheard one message in 1996 that he said came from Taylor to Sankoh, telling Sankoh to take advantage of peace talks in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast to gain more “dancing materials”, which the witness said meant “ammunition”. However, at that time he had not been one of the operators authorized by Sankoh to call Liberian stations or receive calls from them, and authorized operators had separate codes for Liberian calls. When a call came from Liberia, he ran to get the station sergeant.

The witness said that when he arrived in Buedu, he had been given authorization to communicate with the Liberian stations. He identified these as “020”, the Executive Mansion in Monrovia, “Base 1” the residence of SSS Director Benjamin Yeaten in Monrovia, and “FY” or “Foxtrot Yankee”, which was a station in Foya. He gave the code names for the operators at these stations, and said that the Liberian stations had all of the RUF codes.

The witness said that Bockarie had brought a mobile satellite phone from Liberia, which the witness first saw with Bockarie in 1997 in Kenema. He said Bockarie told him that the phone had been given to him by Charles Taylor. After that time, calls would sometimes come from the Executive Mansion or Yeaten’s residence in Monrovia, requesting that Bockarie switch on the satellite phone so that Taylor or Yeaten could talk to him. The witness said that he heard Bockarie on the phone saying “yes sir”, and after the call would say that he had spoken to Taylor, then make a number of orders to commanders in the field over the radio sets, which the witness was involved in sending.

The witness testified that during the January 1999 invasion of Freetown, Bockarie had been in “persistent communication” with 020 and Base 1, the radio sets for Charles Taylor and Benjamin Yeaten. After the AFRC/RUF forces in Freetown in January 1999 radioed that they were under pressure, Bockarie responded by telling them to “burn down the fucking place” and retreat via the Freetown peninsula. The witness learned from an operator in Freetown that the AFRC/RUF men there had subsequently gone on a rampage, killing and wounding civilians and “making the place fearful”. The witness said that following the AFRC/RUF retreat from Freetown in January 1999, a call had come from Taylor’s radio operator, telling Bockarie to switch on his satellite phone. After Bockarie’s discussion on the phone, he issued commands to AFRC/RUF forces near Freetown to set ambushes and go on specific attacks.

Arms and ammunition for the RUF from Liberia

Towards the end of the day, the witness offered accounts of materials delivered to the RUF from Liberia, including ammunition, arms, medicine, petrol, and some food. He said that sometimes Sam Bockarie himself would go to Liberia to collect the shipments, and recounted one large shipment of ammunition that Bockarie brought back to Buedu from a 72-hour trip to Liberia during the approximately three weeks of the January 1999 invasion of Freetown. The witness testified that Bockarie said he had been called to brief the chief, Charles Taylor, and then given the supplies. After Bockarie’s return, he radioed to AFRC/RUF commanders in Kono to come and get the ammunition.

Generally, the witness said, Bockarie would request supplies from Liberia – Yeaten or Taylor – and then could be told either that a helicopter was coming to Foya, where the RUF had guards and vehicles for the transport of ammunition and other materials. From early 1998, Taylor and Yeaten also sometimes dispatched someone with the delivery: usually “Jungle” (Daniel Tamba), “Zigzag” Marzah (an earlier prosecution witness), or Dopoe Menkarzon. The witness recalled Bockarie himself coming from Liberia once in 1998 together with a large “ten-tire” truck full of ammunition, just prior to the operation in Kono in November or December of that year. The witness said he and Zedman accompanied Bockarie on one trip to Liberia. Bockarie went on to Monrovia and they saw his arrival back in Foya three days later on the helicopter full of ammunition disguised as bales of jeans. The witness said he saw the ammunition unloaded back in Buedu.

In the rainy season of 1999, the witness recalled being sent by Issa Sesay to Liberia, where there was fighting over the strategic Liberian town of Voinjama. When he arrived, he was assigned to Benjamin Yeaten who told him to transmit a message back to Sesay that if Voinjama fell to anti-Taylor forces (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy – LURD), the RUF would be cut off from its Liberian supplies as it had been in 1993.

At the end of today’s Court session, the witness recounted flying with Yeaten from Foya to Gbarnga, and Yeaten telling him that only Charles Taylor was more senior than himself in Liberia. In Gbarnga the witness set up a radio set at Charles Taylor’s farm. Yeaten then instructed him to send a message to Joe Tuah to send materials. When these arrived, the witness flew with Yeaten to Tenembu, near the fighting in Voinjama, to deliver the supplies to the front there.

Other testimony

In the course of the day, the witness testified about troop movements related to the AFRC/RUF retreat from Freetown following the February 1998 ECOMOG intervention, and those related to the January 1999 invasion of Freetown and the AFRC/RUF retreat after that invasion.

The witness described tensions between some AFRC and RUF commanders, in particular AFRC commander SAJ Musa, who refused to follow Bockarie’s orders despite receiving an order from AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma to do so. The witness said that the AFRC-RUF relationship improved considerably following SAJ Musa’s death just before the Freetown invasion in January 1999.

Witness TF1-516 will continue his testimony tomorrow when proceedings resume at 9:30 a.m.