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 today.
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 United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (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.”
Prosecution has alleged in evidence that Mr. Taylor sent Liberian fighters to join the Revolutionary United Front (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.
Mr. Taylor told the court that he “heard that there were Liberians fighting in Sierra Leone but only became aware of the name STF after the 1997 elections in Liberia.”
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.
Mr. Taylor also told the court that his election as president of Liberia in 1997 was free and fair. He said that when he became president of Liberia in 1997, the country was at “rock bottom” and so much work needed to be done to improve the country’s infrastructure and economy. Taylor said that he set up a broad based government of national unity in which members of all the former armed groups were represented.
Asked by his defense counsel what was on his mind when he became president, Mr. Taylor said “Liberia, Liberia, Liberia. That’s what is on my mind, to get this country started. How do we get this country forward? I am occupied with Liberia, Liberia and Liberia. That’s my preoccupation.”
There will be no trial session on Friday. Taylor’s testimony continues on Monday.