Charles Taylor did not use his personal influence or control over Sierra Leone’s rebel force to choose a new leader when its head commander was arrested in 2000, Mr. Taylor told the Special Court for Sierra Leone judges today. Instead, West African leaders worked together to appoint a new rebel leader with whom they could negotiate in order to bring peace to Sierra Leone, he said.
In May 2000, Revolutionary United Front (RUF) leader Foday Sankoh was arrested and detained by the government of Sierra Leone after the rebel group abducted over 500 United Nations peacekeepers and held them as hostages. Mr. Taylor said he was able to negotiate the release of the UN peacekeepers after meeting with the RUF’s most senior commander at the time, Issa Sesay. Mr. Taylor said that the next concern was to determine who to negotiate with on behalf of the RUF so that peace would return to Sierra Leone.
“After the release of the UN hostages, we were concerned about who was in charge of the RUF in Sierra Leone,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor said that at a July 26, 2000 meeting in Liberia, six Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) leaders asked Mr. Sesay to take over the leadership of the RUF since Mr. Sankoh was no longer in a position to run the rebel movement. Mr. Sesay, according to Mr. Taylor, told the West African leaders that he needed to get the approval of Mr. Sankoh, who was imprisoned in Sierra Leone. He said that Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, and Malian president, Alpha Oumar Konare, traveled together to Sierra Leone and met with Mr. Sankoh in his prison cell. They obtained a letter from him which approved Mr. Sesay as the RUF’s interim leader.
Referencing the release of the UN hostages, Mr. Taylor responded to prosecution allegations that the rebels listened to Mr. Taylor because of his individual and personal influence over the RUF. Denying this allegation, Mr. Taylor said “No, I am doing this with ECOWAS and everybody, not because of any individual influence.”
The prosecution has led evidence that when Mr. Sankoh gave his approval to Mr. Sesay’s leadership of the RUF, he told Mr. Sesay to take instructions from Mr. Taylor, and ordered Mr. Sesay not to disarm his rebel forces in Sierra Leone. A number of prosecution witnesses also testified that it was Mr. Taylor who changed the leadership of the RUF. Mr. Taylor dismissed this allegation as “total nonsense.”
Mr. Taylor said that the “circumstances surrounding Issa Sesay’s appointment was public knowlege.”
Mr. Taylor said that ECOWAS leaders, including Sierra Leonean president Ahmed Tejan Kabbah saw Mr. Sesay as the most ideal person to work with in order to bring peace to Sierra Leone. “We saw him to be a very good fellow,” Mr. Taylor said. “Some credit is due to him for getting on with the process of Lome [The peace agreement between the government of Sierra Leone and the RUF was signed in the Togolese capital Lome in June 1999].”
Mr. Taylor also today accused the United Kingdom and the United States as the two key states responsible for wrongly accusing him of supporting the RUF rebels in the Sierra Leonean conflict. He dismissed these allegations as “false” and “without proof.”
Mr. Taylor’s testimony continues tomorrow.