Liberians who fought in Sierra Leone were trained and sent to fight by West African peacekeepers in Liberia, Charles Taylor told judges of the Special Court for Sierra Leone today.
Peacekeepers of the Economic Community of West Africa States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), who were based in Liberia, trained over 1000 Liberians and sent them to fight in Sierra Leone, Mr. Taylor told the court in The Hague today. Many of these Liberians were disarmed combatants who were paid and made to fight alongside the Kamajors, a Sierra Leonean civil militia that fought against rebels forces on behalf of the Sierra Leonean government.
“Some of these disarmed ex-combatants were trained and made to fight alongside the Kamajors. Even some of these Liberians are officers in the Sierra Leone army today,” Mr. Taylor said.
He said that ECOMOG used two locations for training and transportation of the Liberian fighters to Sierra Leone.
“Some of these combatants are being flown out of Roberts International Airport [Liberia’s main airport in Monrovia] by ECOMOG on ECOMOG military plane straight into Lungi Airport [Sierra Leone’s main airport in Freetown] and joining the combat. So they had two entry points, one from Roberts Field, they are Liberians who are being flown in to fight, and the second was from Ricks Institute, driven to the Bo Waterside. This is no secret,” Mr. Taylor said.
The prosecution has alleged that Mr. Taylor trained and sent Liberian fighters to Sierra Leone to fight alongside the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels who waged a war against the country (Sierra Leone) for 11 years. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations.
Mr. Taylor said that he was wrongly accused and made to take responsibility for the Liberian fighters in Sierra Leone. He said that when these allegations came up, he asked the United Nations to conduct an independent investigation to prove whether he had anything to do with the presence of Liberian fighters in Sierra Leone.
“I wanted a formal investigation to know who these Liberian fighters in Sierra Leone were, because I know I did not send them,” Mr. Taylor said. “I tried to force an international investigation but it did not take place.”
Mr. Taylor said he called for the deployment of United Nations observers as well as Sierra Leonean and Liberian personnel to monitor the Sierra Leone-Liberian border. He asked the government of Sierra Leone to send undercover officers to Liberia to investigate whether he was sending Liberians to Sierra Leone to fight, Mr. Taylor said.
When the allegations against Mr. Taylor continued during the war, he said that he threatened to quit the ECOWAS Committee of Five–a committee set up by West African leaders to facilitate a peaceful end to the conflict in Sierra Leone.
“I am doing my best, there are no Liberians that I have sent to Sierra Leone, but the allegations abound,” Mr. Taylor said. “So I am going to step out of the Committee of Five. We were just frustrated, we were tired, we were doing our best but nothing was changing.”
Other West African leaders prevailed on him not to quit the Committee of Five, he said.
Mr. Taylor told the judges that on December 20 1998, he closed the Liberian border with Sierra Leone in order to prevent the movement of people between both countries for military purposes.
Mr. Taylor has also been accused of helping RUF rebels plan the January 1999 attack on Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown. Mr. Taylor told judges that he “heard that the attack on Freetown was launched with the assistance of Liberian fighters.” Upon hearing this, Mr. Taylor said he immediately wrote a letter to the United Nations Secretary General to inform him that Liberia was not involved in the attack.
Mr. Taylor expressed anger at these allegations againts him, calling them “unfounded.”
“Even now, I am hurt, I am angry even today,” Mr. Taylor said about the allegations against him.
There will be no trial session on Fridays for the duration of Mr. Taylor’s testimony. Mr. Taylor’s testimony continues on Monday.