September 29, 2008
RUF atrocities during election time
Prosecutor Nicholas Koumjian continued his examination in chief and took the witness to the events prior to the elections in 1996. On December 25, 1995 Kenema District was attacked by RUF rebels, the fighting continued until January 1, 1996 when government soldiers were able to overtake Kenema District. During the election time the RUF rebels committed atrocities in Kenema District: hands of civilians were cut of to prevent them from voting; one man had an iron padlock put on his mouth, one piece through his upper lip and one piece through his lower lip; women were raped; people had carved on their backs “RUF says No to election”. At the time the witness was in Kenema Town and has personally seen victims who were brought into Kenema Town, among others the man with the padlock on his mouth and a woman with her left hand cut off.
Events after the coup of May 25, 1997
On May 25, 1997 when the Kabbah government was overthrown and replaced by the AFRC junta government by Johnny Paul Koroma, the witness was at his mining place in Sandeyeima Swamp. He was informed by a friend about the military coup. Things changed rapidly in Kenema. Soldiers from the SLA (Sierra Leonean Army) formed with the RUF rebels the AFRC. Within three days the AFRC Secretariat was formed in Kenema Town with Eddie Kanneh as Secretary of State East. East referring to the Eastern Region of Sierra Leone. Kanneh was a soldier from the SLA, Abdul Conteh does not remember Kanneh’s rank. Another authority in the AFRC was Sam Bockarie aka Mosquito. There was also a Captain Kanneh, the OC secretariat, not to be confused with Eddie Kanneh, the Secretary of State.
In the witness’s area, the Sandeyeima Swamp and his village Lalehun, the Kamajors and the SSD were in control. SSD stands for Special Security Force, the only armed division of the Sierra Leonean police. They were in charge in this area from May 25 until August 11, 1997. On August 11, 1997 there was heavy fighting at two sides, including the north. The witness left the swamp and went to Sandeyeima village. Later he left from there and, when he was hiding in the bush, a group of combatants led by a tall men completely dressed in red passed by. Later he learnt that this leader was Sam Bockarie. By this time the Kamajors and the SSD were fleeing into the bush. He went to his family’s secret hiding place, in Mende called sorkoihun. His family had also gone there and they were reunited. The next day, August 12, 1997 the witness and his nephew Morison Farma went to check the situation in their town Lalehun. All the houses in Lalehun, about 400 and including his own, had been looted. Two days later Conteh came through a town called Tokpombu 1, where he witnessed burnt houses and corpses lying in the street. From civilians living in this village he heard that they were killed by stray bullets.
Meetings with Sam Bockarie
On August 16, 1997 he heard from his nephew Morison Farma and a man called Ibrahim that Sam Bockarie had had two meetings with civilians, all tribes were represented here. Mosquito said that if the civilians did not come back to their towns and cooperate with the AFRC government, all the natives in Lower Bambara Chiefdom would be in trouble. At this time most of the population of the Lower Bambara Chiefdom had fled to the bush, as they had heard about the atrocities committed by the RUF and were afraid the same might happen to them.
Lower Bambara Caretaker Committee
In Tokpombu One lieutenant Sekou Kunateh was the OC (Officer in Command). The witness and others went to see him and were told that if they would work with the AFRC they would be free and safe. Six persons, including the witness, volunteered to take this message to the Paramount Chief of the Lower Bambara Chiefdom, who resided in Kenema. A Paramount Chief is the figure head of a Chiefdom and has great influence and authority. The witness went from town to town, making observations of what had happened and reported this to the Paramount Chief in Kenema Town. There was a meeting including the Paramount Chief, the witness and representatives from Mosquito, Eddie Kanneh and Captain Kanneh. A committee was formed to work with the AFRC, the Lower Bambara Caretaker Committee, consisting of 13 people and the witness was appointed as Secretary of this Committee. Conteh had to report to the Paramount Chief every week or fortnight. Responsibilities of the Committee: the first responsibility was to take care of their brothers and sisters in the bush. If anything happened it should be reported to the Committee, who in turn would report to the OC Sekou Kunateh. The second responsibility was to get the people of the Lower Bambara Chiefdom to leave the bush and go back to their towns. It was the Paramount Chief who told them to do that, which was in agreement with the demands of the AFRC. From 24 to 31 August 1997 the Committee set up its own secretariat in Tokpombu One.
Reports by the Lower Bambara Caretaker Committee
The witness remembered several reports the Committee took to the Secretary of State and gave one example. At one time the RUF had been unsuccessfully fighting Kamajors, which frustrated them and they took it out on civilians living in a village called Bumpe: about 15 people were killed among which two girls of 14 and 18, four adult men over the age of 40 and several women over the age of 30. They had been shot. Nobody was seen alive in the village, the survivors had all fled to the bush.
The civilians who had fled to the bush and who had come back to their homes were harassed by the AFRC, especially the women, they were raped.
Mining by the AFRC
The witness testified to mining done under the control of the AFRC. One mine was named Cyborg, it was 100 yards long and 50 yards wide. Surface mining was done there, not deep mining.
The RUF rebels would go to villages and raid civilians who were forced to mine for them. They were not paid, but only received two cups of food every evening. The soldiers guarding these miners were armed. One time when civilians tried to mine for themselves, Sam Bockarie sent child soldiers who opened fire, 3 people were killed, many were wounded. The witness mentioned the committee received several reports about these kinds of killings by child soldiers.
The witness explained that the deep mining was often dangerous. Sometimes the mining pits were up to 20 feet (= 6 meter) deep, the sides could collapse, killing the people working there. The Committee received many reports concerning people dying this way.
Conteh was introduced to Sam Bockarie on August 16, 1997. Bockarie was not in Tongo Field permanently. He used to come at 8 a.m. in the morning, collecting diamonds to take these to Kenema Town. He was accompanied by rebels in a convoy, adults and child combatants. The child combatants were between 12 and 14 years old.
The witness testified that he did see diamond on two occasions. On both occasions he was presenting a report to OC Lieutenant Sekou Kunate at his secretariat at Tongo Field. The diamonds were on the table and Kunateh was counting them. The second in command Kamara was also present. Kunateh himself told Conteh that he was to take the diamonds to Sam Bockarie.
Arrival of aircraft
The witness testified that three times a helicopter arrived. On all occasions the civilians were warned the day before that the next day they were to stay in their houses and not come out. There was a plane field half way between Tokpombu One and headquarters, it was half a mile long. Conteh was able to see the helicopter in the sky before it landed.
When asked if Conteh ever heard the name Charles Taylor mentioned, the witness related about a conversation he had had with an RUF commander he had befriended, captain Eagle. Captain Eagle told the witness that the RUF were not only supported by Foday Sankoh, but also by Charles Taylor. The diamonds were sent to Charles Taylor in Liberia, Charles Taylor then being President of Liberia, and that Taylor supplied the ammunition for the RUF in this country, in Sierra Leone.
Leaving Tongo Field
The witness stayed in Tongo Field from August 11 until November 10, 1997. On November 10, 1997 Conteh was approached by RUF rebels and accused of defending the Kamajors. They said that three miles from Tongo Field, Kamajors had overtaken a village called Sembema and they wanted Conteh to come with them and fight these Kamajors, to which he complied. On their way they met an RUF captain called Abdul Raziz, who intervened saying that he just came from Sembema village and that there were no Kamajors there. Aziz took the witness back to Tongo Field on the back of his motorbike. Back in Tongo Field Conteh called for an emergency meeting of the Committee. The witness decided to leave Tongo Field the same day and arrived in Kenema Town the next day, November 11, 1997. This was the base of Mosquito and also captain Kanneh was there, so he left the same day for Bo Town.
At this moment the witness was upset and asked for a break. As the time was getting close to 4.30 p.m., the usual time for adjourning the Court, Court was adjourned at 4.20 p.m. until tomorrow 9.30 a.m.