Charles Taylor today said he had no more personal influence over Sierra Leone’s rebel forces than any other West African leader during Sierra Leone’s brutal 11-year war, and deflected attention away from his relationship with the rebel group by pointing to the close military and financial ties between the rebel leaders and Nigerian peacekeepers.
Continuing along the similar themes as yesterday’s testimony, Mr. Taylor reinforced to the Special Court for Sierra Leonea judges that he was only able to convince the leadership of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels to yield to the demands of peace in Sierra Leone because he had “built the confidence and trust which is necessary in any mediation efforts.”
Asked by his defense counsel Courtenay Griffiths whether he exercised any influence over the RUF rebels, Mr. Taylor said “none whatsoever.”
The prosecution has alleged that Mr. Taylor had control over the RUF rebels who fought in Sierra Leone’s civil war. Prosecution witnesses have testified that the Mr. Taylor supplied arms and ammunition to the RUF rebels and that the leadership of the rebel group was answerable to him. Witnesses have testified that Mr. Taylor was able to secure the release of United Nations peacekeepers held hostage by RUF rebels because he had influence over the rebel group’s leadership. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations.
In his testimony today, Mr. Taylor told judges that the rebel leadership listened to him just like they did to other West African leaders who were involved in facilitating a peaceful end to the conflict in Sierra Leone.
“Nigeria had very good contact with the RUF. Burkina Faso and Mali also had very good contact with the RUF. We built confidence and trust with them. They therefore took us seriously,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor told the judges when Issa Sesay became interim leader of the RUF in 2000 after the incarceration of the rebel group’s leader Foday Sankoh, all West African leaders involved in Sierra Leone’s peace process were in regular contact with Mr. Sesay. “I was in contact with him [Issa Sesay] and all other heads of states were in direct contact with him,” he said.
Mr. Taylor admitted that during this period, he maintained a guest house for use by the RUF in Liberia. He said that the RUF spokesman Gibril Massaquoi was based at the RUF guest house in Liberia for about six months.
Mr. Taylor also today discussed a September 9 2000 Guardian Newspaper article which reported that Nigerian peacekeepers in Sierra Leone were involved in diamond trade with RUF rebels. “There were indications that Nigerian soldiers were involved in the trade of diamonds,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor said that Nigerian military commander, Maxwell Kobe (who was head of the Sierra Leone army) received up to 10 million USD from the RUF, and that former Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) commander General Kpamber (also from Nigeria) worked with RUF leader Foday Sankoh. Mr. Taylor said that “some people referred to Kpamber as Sankoh’s ADC [aide-de-camp].”
Mr. Taylor further told the court that in his efforts to consolidate peace in his troubled neighboring country after peace accords were signed in 1999, he tried to intervene when the Sierra Leone government started training the new Sierra Leone Army. Mr Taylor said he cautioned his neighboring government that all such trainings should cease until after the completion of the disarmament process. He said that he gave this caution because the training of military personnel while rebel groups were being disarmed could undermine the entire peace process.
“I saw that as a very disturbing factor because you will only discourage people from disarming. What is even troubling about it, you are doing this while disarmament is not over,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor’s testimony continues on Monday.