Liberia, in concert with other West African countries and the rest of the international community did not recognize the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) junta in Sierra Leone, Charles Taylor told judges today at his trial before the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
The AFRC junta was a group of Sierra Leonean soldiers who overthrew the government of former President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah in May 1997. The coup was met with widespread condemnation and non-recognition from the Sierra Leonean populace and the international community. The coup plotters who formed a merger with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels stayed in power until February 1998 when they were forcefully removed by peacekeepers of the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) and Tejan Kabbah’s government reinstated.
Charles Taylor has been accused of providing support to the AFRC junta by providing arms and ammunition for them in return for diamonds. Mr. Taylor has denied the allegations.
Mr. Taylor told Special Court judges today that “Liberia did not recognize the AFRC junta. So even if we had weapons, we would not have sent them to Sierra Leone.”
Mr. Taylor told the judges about former Ghanian president Jerry Rawlings’s visit to Liberia in 1997 during which they both signed a communique stating that “we must in the most emphatic terms condemn the illegal overthrow of constitutional order in Sierra Leone.” The two leaders, he said jointly called on the AFRC junta to yield to international demands and give up power so that the legitimate government of president Kabbah could be reinstated.
He said that the common position of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was that “President Kabbah should be reinstated.”
Taylor, however, did admit that when he became president of Liberia in 1997, the AFRC sent a delegation to Liberia to meet with him. Taylor said he refused to meet with the delegation because he did not have a prior notice of the visit and that since he did not recognize them, there was no need to meet with them. “To have met with the delegation would have meant giving some credence to the regime that ECOWAS had refused to recognize,” he said. Taylor told the court that the first time he met and spoke with the AFRC leader Johnny Paul Koroma was in August 1999. At this time, Taylor was Chairman of the Committee of Five that was set up by ECOWAS to facilitate the restoration of peace in Sierra Leone. Taylor said that when the West Side Boys, a renegade group of AFRC soldiers, took some foreign military personnel hostage in Sierra leone, he called Johnny Paul Koroma to a meeting in Liberai in order to facilitate the release of the hostages.
Taylor denied allegations that he supplied arms and ammunition to the AFRC and RUF while he was president of Liberia. Taylor told judges that all fighting forces in Liberia had been disarmed and the Liberian military was non-existent at this time. “Here is a country just coming out of war with no economy, no army, what am I doing with another country? I did not even have arms for my own security. My protection was in the hands of ECOMOG.” Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor responded to prosecution evidence that he used Roberts International Airport in Monrovia to receive and transport arms and ammunition to rebel forces in Sierra Leone. Taylor said this would not have been possible since ECOMOG soldiers were using the airport to bomb Sierra Leone. “How do we fly arms to Sierra Leone?” Taylor asked.
Mr. Taylor admitted that he did provide a guest house for the RUF in Monrovia but insisted that he did this in his capacity as Chairman of the Committee of Five. He explained that ECOWAS leaders were free to go to the guest house and meet with the RUF delegation whenever they wanted to do so. Taylor said that while this was necessary to facilitate the peace process in Sierra Leone, it did not in anyway translate into support for the RUF. Taylor said as a member of ECOWAS, he was committed to bringing the conflict in Sierra Leone to a peaceful conclusion. “It is a matter of dignity, a matter of honour, a matter of being president and no longer a rebel leader,” he said.
Mr. Taylor’s testimony continues tomorrow.