As Liberian President, Charles Taylor did not have any control over Liberian fighters who travelled to Sierra leone to join rebel forces there, and further, he expelled a British National and a Sierra Leonean diplomat from Liberia when he suspected them of collaborating with rebel forces in Sierra Leone, Mr. Taylor told the Special Court for Sierra Leone this week.
In an effort to distance himself from allegations that he supported and controlled rebel forces in Sierra Leone during its conflict, Mr. Taylor explained this week that many former combatants from Liberia’s own conflict, who had migrated to Sierra Leone after Mr. Taylor came to power in Liberia in 1997, joined either the group of Liberians known as the Special Task Force – a group aiding the Sierra Leonean army – while some joined the Sierra Leonean rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), he said. Some, Mr. Taylor said, became prey for mercenaries due to their lack of food or jobs.
Mr. Taylor said that he, however, had no control or command over these fighters who had migrated to Sierra Leone and become part of fighting forces there, and could not have punished them for any crimes committed in Sierra Leone, nor prevented the crimes from happening.
“How do you punish someone when he is not under your control?” Mr. Taylor asked the court. “You can only be responsible for people under your direct command.”
“Nobody can say that Taylor ordered me to do X, Y or Z. I did not have contact with them and there was no control over them. I did not help them in anyway,” Mr. Taylor told the judges.
Asked by his defense counsel Courtenay Griffiths what he did as newly elected president of Liberia to control such situation, Mr. Taylor said that the “only thing I could have done was to get international support to build schools and train people or engage them in projects to become productive citizens.” He said this was not possible because he did not have any international support.
Mr. Taylor has been accused of supporting RUF rebels in Sierra Leone by supplying them with arms and ammunition in exchange for Sierra Leone’s diamonds. The prosecution further alleges that in addition to sending Liberian fighters to join the rebels forces in Sierra Leone, he also provided safe haven for RUF rebels in Liberia. Mr. Taylor has denied the allegations.
On Tuesday, Mr. Taylor told the court how he expelled two individuals from Liberia, one from Britain and the other from Sierra Leone on suspicion that they were collaborating with RUF rebels in Sierra Leone through a company operating in Monrovia called Red Deer International. According to Mr. Taylor, when security forces raided the premises of the Red Deer International company, they discovered several items which, intelligence sources suggested, were for use by RUF rebels.
“We saw some suits of uniform, military uniform, the police seized hand-held walkie talkies, the Government of Sierra Leone was fully briefed about what was going on,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor said the arrested persons were in touch with certain individuals who were connected to the RUF.
Mr. Taylor also gave a chronology of steps he took to assure Sierra Leone and the international community that he was not supporting RUF rebels and that he wanted a peaceful end to the conflict in Sierra Leone.
On May 5 1998, Mr. Taylor said he wrote a letter to the United Nations Secretary General denying allegations by the Nigerian Ministry of Defense that he was involved in the conflict in Sierra Leone.
On June 24 1998, Mr. Taylor sent a delegation to meet with former Sierra Leonean president Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, a step Mr. Taylor called a “diplomatic move to assure your neighbor that these are just false allegations and there is no need to worry.”
President Tejan Kabbah also attended Liberia’s independence celebrations in Monrovia on July 26, 1998. Mr. Taylor said this move by President Kabbah proved that there was no animosity between the two leaders.
“If this conflict was so serious, Kabbah would not have visited me. Presidents at war with each other will not pay visits,” Mr. Taylor said.
On December 28 1998, Mr. Taylor said he issued a statement asking for the establishment of a commission of inquiry to look into allegations of Liberian involvement in the conflict in Sierra Leone and he asked the government of Sierra Leone to be part of a joint patrol to monitor the Sierra Leone-Liberian border.
On January 6 1999, Mr. Taylor sent a letter to the United Nations Security Council saying that Liberia wanted normalcy in its relationship with Sierra Leone and asking for the deployment of United Nations personnel along the border between the two countries.
When the January 1999 rebel invasion of Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown took place, Mr. Taylor declared a unilateral ceasefire on behalf of the RUF rebels. The prosecution has alleged that Mr. Taylor helped the RUF rebels to plan the January 1999 invasion of Freetown. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations.
Asked by Mr. Griffiths why he took the lead to declare a ceasefire on behalf of the RUF in January 1999, Mr. Taylor said that “Liberia, Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana are charged with the responsibility of engaging the RUF and the junta. I am the point guard, so to speak, on this effort, the contacts are being made by me. Why? This time Sam Bockarie has already been to Liberia for the first time, the second time, and has come through the third time. So it is obvious that these contacts are being made and the information shared with my colleagues.”
Mr. Taylor said he was actively involved in efforts to get President Tejan Kabbah and RUF leader Foday Sankoh to the negotiating table which ended with the signing of a peace agreement between the Government of Sierra Leone and the RUF in the Togolese capital, Lome, in June 1999.
On Wednesday, Mr. Taylor told the court that he was only interested in achieving peace in Sierra Leone for the people of the country, not for the benefit of the country’s rebel leader Foday Sankoh.
“My plan to bring peace to Sierra Leone was not for Foday Sankoh but for the people of Sierra Leone,” Mr. Taylor told the court.
Mr. Taylor explained that when he became president of Liberia in 1997, he was anxious for peace to return to Sierra Leone in order to bring development to his own country.
“This has never been for Sankoh but for Sierra Leone. I was in a hurry to do something for my people in Liberia and this cannot move ahead without peace in Sierra Leone,” Mr. Taylor said. “If there is no peace in Sierra Leone, there will be no peace in Liberia.”
On Thursday, the court heard that a key military intelligence document, written by and for high level Sierra Leonean rebel commanders summarizing their group’s activities during a brutal time in the Sierra Leonean war, made no mention of any assistance by Mr. Taylor with their efforts.
Mr. Griffiths read from a ‘Salute Report’ written by former RUF commander Sam Bockarie to his returning leader, Foday Sankoh. The report was written after Mr. Sankoh’s absence from the rebel group between 1997 and 1999, while he was imprisoned by Nigeria . The document provided a detailed account of the RUF’s activities while Mr. Sankoh was gone.
Reading from the report, the defense sought to rebut prosecution allegations that the RUF was controlled by Mr. Taylor during Sierra Leone ’s war while Mr. Sankoh was imprisoned in Nigeria , and that during this time, Mr. Taylor promoted RUF commander Sam Bockarie to the rank of Brigadier General. Witnesses have further testified in the trial that diamonds mined by the RUF were taken to Mr. Taylor and that in return, he supplied the rebels with arms and ammunition. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations.
Asked by his defense counsel whether there was any mention in the report of him giving orders for the RUF to join the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC)–a group of Sierra Leonean soldiers who overthrew the government of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah in May 1997–Mr. Taylor said “No. I was not privy to any of this information. From what I got, this was an instruction from Sankoh on tape that was played on radio.”
On his promotion to the rank of General in the RUF, the Salute Report quoted Sam Bockarie as saying “I was promoted to General by Johnny Paul Koroma [former leader of the AFRC].” Mr. Taylor buttressed this point by saying he never promoted Mr. Bockarie to such rank, saying that “in fact to the best of my recollection, when I met Bockarie, he was already a General.”
Mr. Taylor again blamed Western Powers for the state of affairs in Liberia after he became president in 1997. He said the western powers encouraged him to disarm all fighting forces in Liberia , burning all arms and ammunition and thereby rendering him powerless only for the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebels to launch an attack against him.
“It ended up with an insurgency by LURD after we were led to burn our arms. After we burnt all our arms, LURD attacked,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor told the court that more needs to be done to solve the problems of conflicts in the West African sub-region than putting him to trial.
“The trials in Sierra Leone or the trial of Taylor will not end the problems in that region. They can only be resolved if we go to the root causes of these conflicts,” he said.
Mr. Taylor’s testimony continues on Monday.