Charles Taylor has told the Special Court for Sierra Leone judges that he did not support the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in Sierra Leone and that he was too busy with issues in Liberia, which could not have allowed him to pay attention to what was going on in Sierra Leone. Taylor, however, did admit that between August 1991 to May 1992, he had some relationship with the RUF but such relationship was purely to protect his forces against attacks from United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO) who were supported by the government of Sierra Leone.
On Monday July 20, 2009, Taylor told judges that “I had no knowlege in March 1991 of a group called the RUF planning a war in Sierra Leone.” Taylor was referring to the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), a Sierra Leonean rebel group that Taylor has has been accused of working with and controlling as it comitted crimes in Sierra Leone after 1996. The RUF and its then leader, Foday Sankoh, were not among those Taylor met while his troops were undergoing military training in Libya between 1987 and 1989, he said. Foday Sankoh, Taylor told the court, had no credentials of a revolutionary and that he would not have supported Sankoh to wage a war against the then Sierra Leonean president Joseph S. Momoh, who he considered a friend.
Taylor, however, began working with the Sierra Leonean rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) between August 1991 and May 1992, after a Liberian armed group, ULIMO, started attacking his forces, he told the court on Tuesday. The rival group, ULIMO, was supported by the Sierra Leonean government, Taylor said – but this did not mean he wanted to help the RUF rebel leader, Foday Sankoh, to attack Sierra Leone in the early 1990s.
“My relationship with Foday Sankoh was for security purposes to fight ULIMO in Sierra Leone so as to prevent fighting them in Liberia,” Taylor told judges on Tuesday while giving testimony in his own defense.
Taylor also denied allegations that he used children as NPFL combatants in Liberia. He explained that while many children were in NPFL controlled territory, “there was no official policy of the NPFL to recruit, train and arm children for combat.” He said that he even had one of the largest orphanages in Gbarngha during the war and that “whenever there is a crisis anywhere, you will always see soldiers moving around with children.”
Mr. Taylor told judges on Wednesday that when rebels attacked Sierra Leone in March 1991, he was busy holding discussions with West African leaders in Senegal geared towards the cessation of hostilities in Liberia and therefore could not have been planning an attack on Sierra Leone.
“At the time of the RUF invasion of Sierra Leone, I was busy with peace meetings but the prosecution has me busy planning and supporting the RUF in Sierra Leone,” Taylor told the judges.
Liberian nationals who fought in Sierra Leone during the civil conflict were recruited by the Sierra Leone army, Charles Taylor told judges at the Special Court for Sierra Leone on Thursday.
Mr. Taylor, testifying in his own defense told the court that during the war in Liberia, many Liberians traveled to Sierra Leone as refugees. These Liberians, Taylor said, later became members of the rebel group ULIMO and were armed by the Sierra Leone army to attack Taylor’s forces in Liberia. According to Taylor’s evidence, many of these armed Liberians later stayed in Sierra Leone and became known as the Special Task Force (STF). Taylor’s defense presented evidence that these STF forces were armed by the Government of Sierra Leone and fought alongside the Sierra Leone army.
Taylor’s defense counsel Courtenay Griffiths read from the statement presented to the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission by former President Tejan Kabbah in which he said that the STF were remnants of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) and the Liberian Police who traveled to Sierra Leone and became members of ULIMO. President Kabbah’s statement further read that these fighters were received and armed by the then government of Joseph Momoh in Sierra Leone to go and attack Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL). President Kabbah’s statement read that those who stayed in Sierra Leone were later renamed the STF and were almost incorporated into the Sierra Leone Army. When the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) coup took place in Sierra Leone, the STF joined them and were part of the fighters who attacked Freetown in January 1999. President Kabbah, however, said that he only knew about the STF when the AFRC coup took place in May 1997.
Responding to the contents of President Kabbah’s statement, Taylor said that “it is very clear who they are – remnants of ULIMO who had been engaged as mercenaries in Sierra Leone. They are not my people.”
Mr. Taylor denied that he had given arms and ammunition to rebel forces in Sierra Leone during the country’s civil conflict. He accused ULIMO soldiers of traveling to Sierra Leone with their arms and ammunition, which he said could have found their way into rebel hands. “We were receiving reports that ULIMO fighters were going back and joining their friends in Sierra Leone with their arms and ammunition,” Taylor said.
The prosecution has alleged that Mr. Taylor was involved in planning the invasion of Sierra Leone in 1991 and that in subsequent years, he supported the rebels through the supply of arms and ammunition, and that by his acts or omissions, he bears responsibility for crimes committed by the RUF in Sierra Leone.
Prosecution has further alleged in evidence that Mr. Taylor sent Liberian fighters to join the RUF in Sierra Leone and that these Liberian fighters were part of the group that attacked Freetown in January 1999. Many witnesses have also testified that rebels who attacked their villages in Sierra Leone spoke with Liberian accents, and they believe these Liberians were sent to Sierra Leone by Charles Taylor. In his testimony before the judges of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Mr. Taylor has denied all these allegations.
The judges have ruled that during the duration of Mr. Taylor’s testimony, the Court would not sit on Fridays. Court will therefore resume on Monday.