Tuesday January 27, 2009.
3:00pm: Court resumed and prosecution counsel Mr. Nicholas Koumjian continued the examination of Witness TF1-174. Counsel asked the witness about the existence of RUF check points in Makeni area and whether the check points had any visible objects. The witness said that during the time he did relief work in Makeni, he saw RUF check points and that in a village called Foredugu, he saw an RUF check point with a human head and pennis hung on sticks. This he said was around Christmas of 1996. When askd about rebel attacks during the 1996 elections, the witness said that there was no attack in Makeni town at this time but that there were attacks in Tonkolili District. He said that because of rebel threats that ink thumbed hands of voters will be amputated, many people in Makeni were scared to go out and vote. In a village called Makambo, the witness said that rebels stopped people from voting.
May 1997 Coup and its Impact in Makeni
Counsel asked the witness about his knowlege of the May 25, 1997 coup. The witness said that he was in Church on that Sunday morning when the Priest informed them that he had just been informed of the coup. The witness said he also heard the announcement that the RUF rebels were to come to town and join the AFRC. The witness said many RUF rebels came into Makeni and settled at Teko Barracks. He said that a group of relief NGOs decided to address the plight of the children among the fighting forces in Makeni. He said they asked and got permission from Col. Isaac for them to address the concerns of the children. Asked how they knew the ages of the children, the witness said that for those children who had gone to school, they were able to say what their ages were but that for those who did not go to school, they had to make an assessment and determine what their ages were. He said most of the children were below 14-15 years of age. The witness explained that their group interacted with the children, joined them to cook food and took them to church. He said the children comprised both male and female.
Counsel asked the witness about ECOMOG bombardments in Makeni on February 17, 1998. The witness explained that when the ECOMOG fighter jet dropped bombs in Makeni, the rebels accused civilians of supporting the ECOMOG soldiers. He said the rebels fired gun shots in the town for the whole of the night and they embarked on massive looting of houses, schools, the college and the Catholic Seminary. This, he said was “Operation Pay Yourself.” He said that many girls were also raped. He said that he saw RUF rebels who went to his neighbour’s appartment and raped two girls aged between 14-15 years. He said he also saw people shot. The witness himself said he buried 13 people who had been killed by the rebels.
According to the witness, in the evening of March 2, 1998, ECOMOG soldiers entered and captured Makeni. He said the AFRC/RUF soldiers left Makeni but they kept attacking small villages around the town. In the villages of Zokohun and Bendembu, the witness said civilian arms and limbs were amputated. He said Bendembu was also burnt down by the rebels. The witness said many civilians and ECOMOG soldiers were killed.
When asked about December 1998, the witness said the war also affected Makeni and that Bimkolo, a town seven miles away from Makeni was attacked. He said the rebels entered Makeni again and that a friend of his, who wanted to give him and his family a ride out of Makeni was killed. The witness and his family went to a bush near Mabanta where they hid for sometime. He said that on December 23, 1998, the rebels asked that all civilians should leave the bush and go back to Makeni town. The witness said he saw girls who were raped. He explained that when he went back to Makeni, he met a lady at McRoberts Street who introduced him to one Col. Sesay. The witness said he saw RUF rebels in vehicles, including ECOMOG vehicles and they told him they were going to capture Freetown. He said he also saw vehicle loaded with dead bodies, including those of ECOMOG soldiers. He testified to the harrassment of civilians and raping of girls at this time. He said that at McRoberts street, a young girl with a young baby was gang raped by RUF rebels.
The witness testified about a meeting presided over by MP Jalloh during which an executive was set up to run the administration of Makein. He said that MP Jalloh told them the laws they should live by in Makeni. He said Jalloh told them that since the RUF had run out of manpower, they wanted the town of Makeni to donate young boys and girls to them who will join the fighting ranks. He said the rebels preferred the young boys and girls because they could easily take orders compared to adults. He said many young boys and girls went and registered themselves while many others were forcefully abducted. He said about 3000 boys and girls were registered and they were trained in the Agriculture Compound.
January 1999 Invasion of Freetown
The witness said that in january 1999, he listened to the radio and heard that rebels had entered Freetown. He said he listened to the BBC and heard the then minister of information Dr. Spencer as well as one Col. Sesay of the RUF that the rebels had entered Freetown. Counsel asked that a recording of a BBC Focus on Africa interview be played in court. In the first interview, then minister of information Dr. Spencer conceeded that the rebels had entered Freetown and that all civilians were adviced to stay calm. In the second interview, RUF’s Col. Issa told the BBC that the combined forces of AFRC/RUF had entered Freetown, captured State House and had overthrown the SLPP government. Sesay said that 15,000 armed men were involved in the operation and that he was speaking from the State House. The witness said they heard that interview in Makeni and the RUF forced all of them to go to the streets and rejoice for their success. He said they had no choice and so had to do it.
He said that he later spoke with children in Makeni who admitted to him that they were part of the troops that entered and fought in Freetown in January 1999. The witness wrote down four names of the children he spoke with. He said that Makeni was occupied by RUF, AFRC and STF forces. He gave the names of some of the commanders in Makeni at that time such as CO. Isaac, Co. Titus, Brig. Mani, etc. He said the STF were Liberian fighters under the command of Gen. Bropleh.
Court adjourned for the day and the witness is set to continue his testimony tomorrow.