Charles Taylor did not help plan the rebel invasion of Sierra Leone in March 1991, nor know about the existence of the revolutionary group that started the 11-year Sierra Leonean conflict, he told the Special Court for Sierra Leone today.
“I had no knowlege in March 1991 of a group called the RUF planning a war in Sierra Leone,” Taylor said.
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.
“Those in Libya were not the RUF but the Sierra Leone Pan-African Revolutionary Movement and I only met with Ali Kabbah in Libya,” Taylor said.
Taylor said he was “shocked to hear that a war had started in Sierra Leone” in March 1991 and contrary to prosecution allegations, he was not part of a meeting which planned the invasion against neighboring Sierra Leone.
“I was never present at such a meeting, its a lie. If there was such a meeting, I would not know. I was not present at such a meeting,” Taylor said.
Taylor did admit, however, that between August 1991 to May 1992, he had some relationship with the RUF, during which period he offered some help to them. He considered the RUF to be fighting the same foe as his own revolutionary force: the United Liberation Movement for Democracy (ULIMO) rebels operating in Liberia with support from the Sierra Leone Government.
Since the two groups had a common enemy in ULIMO, Taylor said he asked to meet the leader of the RUF, Foday Sankoh. Taylor said the first time the two met was in Liberia when Sankoh visited him to discuss the placement of troops from Taylor’s rebel group – the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) — around the Sierra Leonean border to try to contain ULIMO attacks against the NPFL and RUF.
Taylor said he gave Sankoh a house in NPFL headquarters in Gbarngha, Liberia where he would stay whenever he visited. He said that during such visits, Sankoh had access to NPFL communication facilities but that he “had no control over Foday Sankoh.” During this period also, Taylor admitted to supplying the RUF with small amounts of arms and ammunition since they were fighting a common enemy in ULIMO.
Taylor said that the relationship between the two groups ended in March 1992 when RUF rebels had serious clashes with NPFL fighters present in and around the Sierra Leone-Liberian border. Taylor said that after severing relationship with Sankoh in May 1992, he only spoke with him again in July 1999 during the peace talks between the Government of Sierra and the RUF in Lome, Togo.
Mr. Taylor also told the judges that he took actions to stop the intervention of West African peacekeepers of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Liberia. These peacekeepers, he said, intervened because they believed that the presence of a civilian revolutionary movement in Liberia would have influenced many people in the West African sub-region.
He said he “had warned that certain ECOWAS countries had taken sides in the conflict” and therefore their presence in Liberia was against NPFL interests. ECOWAS peacekeepers, Mr. Taylor said, attacked NPFL controlled territories, launching cluster bombs which caused several civilian casualties.
Taylor’s testimony will continue tomorrow.