A 2000 United Nations Expert Panel Report, which accused Mr. Taylor of fueling the conflict in Sierra Leone through diamond and arms trade with Sierra Leonean rebel forces, took center stage today in Mr. Taylor’s testimony. Mr. Taylor dismissed the report as “disgraceful” and full of “disinformation,” as he refuted all its allegations against him.
The report, which Mr Taylor dismissed as biased against him in yesterday’s testimony, alleged that Mr. Taylor received diamonds from two key rebel commanders in Sierra Leone: Ibrahim Ba, a Senegalese rebel commander who worked with Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels, and Johnny Paul Koroma, leader of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), a group of soldiers who overthrew the government of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah in May 1997. The AFRC joined forces with the RUF rebels but they were forcefully removed from power by West African peacekeepers in February 1998. Mr. Taylor denied receiving diamonds from any of these individuals.
“I never had a business relationship with Ibrahim Ba. I have never collaborated with Ba for any sale of diamonds. There has never been a business relationship with Ba. None whatsoever. There are no documents to prove this. I don’t recall any evidence that mentioned diamonds taken from Johnny Paul Koroma,” Mr. Taylor said.
The UN report further named several individuals with whom Mr. Taylor is said to have had diamond transactions including Lt. Colonels Kennedy, Abdul Razak and Victor, each of whom were commanders of an RUF “mining unit” in Kono diamond fields in Sierra Leone. Responding to this, Mr. Taylor said that “I have had no contact with any of them.”
The report also accused Mr. Taylor of having representatives in Kono and Tongo Fields in Sierra Leone, where the RUF rebels mined diamonds. Mr. Taylor denied having any representative in any of these places.
“I don’t know who they are talking about but I never had any representative anywhere,” Mr. Taylor told the judges.
Mr. Taylor also responded to allegations in the UN report that the RUF guesthouse in Liberia was used by RUF commanders for diamond transactions. Mr. Taylor denied knowledge of any such transactions taking place. “If I had found out, it would have been shut down. I had no idea it was used for such business activities,” he said.
Mr. Taylor told the judges that while he did “not dispute the fact that diamonds were smuggled to Liberia,” his government had no involvement in such diamond deals. He denied receiving any diamonds from RUF commander Sam Bockarie.
The prosecution has alleged that while RUF leader Foday Sankoh was imprisoned in Nigeria, RUF commanders took diamonds to Mr. Taylor for safe keeping pending the release of their leader. Mr. Taylor has denied this allegation.
“I had no knowledge of the fact that Sam Bockarie brought diamonds to Liberia. I did not hold diamonds for safe keeping, I did not hold diamonds pending anybody’s release,” Mr. Taylor told the judges.
According to the UN Expert Report, “this trade [diamond trade with the RUF] cannot be conducted without high level government involvement.” Denying his government’s involvement in the diamond trade with RUF rebels, Mr. Taylor told the court that “the nature of the diamond trade then and now did not require any government involvement. This is the case not only in Liberia. Tourists buy diamonds,” he said.
Mr. Taylor referenced that even though the United States has a fence separating its border with Mexico, that has not stopped drug cartels from transporting drugs into the United States. “Why do they expect Liberia to detect little stones coming to the country? It is insulting,” he said.
The UN Expert Report also stated that Mr. Taylor maintained training facilities for RUF rebels at various locations in Liberia including Batala. Mr. Taylor denied that any such training facilities existed. “None whatsoever, no training facilities for RUF in Liberia,” he said.
He also told the judges that no prosecution witness has mentioned any training facility for the RUF at Batala. The only training facility that has been mentioned by prosecution witnesses is the one at Camp Name, Mr. Taylor said. According to the UN Expert Report, there is sufficient oral and documentary evidence to show that trainings were taking place at Batala. In response, Mr. Taylor explained that Sierra Leonean rebels who had followed Sam Bockarie when he relocated to Liberia in December 1999 were trained at Batala as part of the Anti Terrorist Unit (ATU) but they underwent such training only after they had been granted Liberian citizenship. They were therefore not RUF rebels anymore, he said.
Mr. Taylor went on to dismiss the legitimacy of the report altogether. “This is the UN Panel writing this report and it is disgraceful. They should have done their home work. This is disinformation,” he said.
Mr. Taylor is responding to allegations that he provided support for RUF rebels in Sierra Leone through the supply of arms and ammunition in return for diamonds. The prosecution also alleges that Mr. Taylor gave direct orders to RUF commanders and that through his acts or omissions, he bears responsibility for the crimes committed by RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor has denied all these allegations. He is presently testifying as a witness in his own defense at the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
Mr. Taylor’s testimony continues tomorrow.