Charles Taylor today accused the United Nations of making him responsible for the presence of Liberian fighters among rebel forces in Sierra Leone during its 11-year conflict. This misconception, he said, had landed him in jail today.
Mr. Taylor’s defence counsel Courtenay Griffiths read from a 1998 United Nations (UN) Security Council report which stated that over 100 Liberian fighters were identified among rebel forces killed by Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) soldiers after the military intervention that forced the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) and Revolutionary United Front (RUF) junta from power in 1998. The report further read that about 65 Liberian fighters had been arrested and detained at Sierra Leone’s maximum security prisons. The information is said to have been provided by Mr. Francis Okello, the then Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in Sierra Leone.
Mr. Taylor denied these allegations and informed the judges that the government of Sierra Leone was aware that the Liberians fighting in Sierra Leone were not sent by him, but were former members of the Liberian army who had escaped to Sierra Leone and had become part of the Special Task Force (STF)– a group of Liberian fighters who reports indicate fought alongside the Sierra Leone military, supported the AFRC coup of 1997 and became part of the AFRC/RUF junta. Mr. Taylor has denied any associations with the STF.
“We are shocked by this because we knew, the government of Sierra Leone and ECOWAS knew who the Liberians were,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor said that this was the first time that such an allegation had been made against him and it only happened when he asked the UN Security Council to lift the arms embargo that had been imposed on Liberia. “For the first time, this is raised. It is a complete shock to me and my government,” Mr. Taylor said. “If Okello had taken his time to investigate the matter, he would have known that they were not my people. If he had done his homework, he would have known the fact. He did not do his homework.”
Mr. Taylor told judges that his failure to clarify the presence of Liberians in Sierra Leone is what has brought him to his present state. “We never succeeded in putting the fact that there were Liberians in Sierra Leone but not sent by Taylor. This is what got me to jail today,” he said.
The AFRC/RUF junta regime was established when soldiers of the Sierra Leone army overthrew the government of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah in May 1997. The junta forces were eventually forced out of power through a military intervention by ECOMOG forces in February 1998.
The prosecution alleges that Charles Taylor supported the junta regime and provided them with arms and ammunition. The prosecution further alleges that Liberian forces under Mr. Taylor’s control were sent by him to fight alongside the rebel forces in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor has denied the allegations and has said in his testimony that he was in concert with other West African leaders to remove the junta from power and restore peace in Sierra Leone.
Mr. Taylor told the judges that some members of the international community did not like him being president of Liberia. “Maybe some people saw me as a problem, looking back at the coup, war, a situation where he was trained in Libya, and so they tried to stop me from being elected as president, the Liberian people did not buy the arguement, I think the word came out then that we must stop Taylor,” he said.
Mr. Taylor has also been accused of hosting RUF commanders such as Sam Bockarie for regular meetings in Liberia. Mr. Taylor said that the first time he spoke with Sam Bockarie was in September 1998 when he became member of the ECOWAS Committee of Five, a committee that was set up to facilitate a peaceful end to the conflict in Sierra Leone.
Mr. Taylor said that he had nothing to gain from destabilizing Sierra Leone as it is “only with stability in the region will Liberia get investors.”
There will be no trial sessions on Fridays during the duration of Mr. Taylor’s testimony. Mr. Taylor’s testimony continues on Monday.