Charles Taylor 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, Mr. Taylor told Special Court for Sierra Leone judges today at his trial in The Hague.
“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 today.
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.”
Mr. Taylor told the judges that he became very active in efforts to bring peace to Sierra Leone. He told the judges that when the government of Sierra Leone finally decided to hold peace talks with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in Togo, which eventually resulted in the 1999 Lome Peace Agreement, Liberia had a permanent delegation based in the Togolese capital to help Sierra Leone’s peace efforts.
“They were there because of my role, we wanted somebody on the ground that could brief me regularly on progress with the peace talks,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor himself eventually traveled to Togo for the final signing of the peace agreement between the government of Sierra Leone and the RUF. As a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Committee of Five [a committee set up to facilitate a peaceful end to the conflict in Sierra Leone], he was made to sign the final peace agreement as a moral guarantor to the peace efforts between the two parties.
Mr. Taylor said that after the signing of the peace agreement between the government of Sierra Leone and the RUF, he advised RUF leader Foday Sankoh to change the RUF into a political machine and seek a mandate from the people of Sierra Leone like he (Taylor) did in Liberia.
“Stop the war, go into politics, drop the gun and go into politics. You can’t go into politics with a gun in your hand,” Mr. Taylor said he told Foday Sankoh.
The prosecution has accused Mr. Taylor of providing support for the RUF rebels in Sierra Leone throught the supply of arms and ammunition as well as provision of personnel for combat against the government and people of Sierra Leone. There have also been allegations that the RUF rebels sought advice from Mr. Taylor and that he used his position of authority to influence the rebel forces. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations and insists that his involvement in Sierra Leone was purely for peaceful purposes based on a mandate from ECOWAS leaders.
Mr. Taylor also told the court today that when United Nations officials, West African peace keepers and journalists were held captive by the West Side Boys — a dissident group from the Sierra Leone army who were loyal to Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC) leader Johnny Paul Koroma — he was able to peacefully negotiate the release of the hostages.
In 1999, the West Side Boys held UN, West African Peace keepers and journalists hostage in demand for the release of Johnny Paul Koroma, leader of the AFRC, who had been held captive by RUF rebels in Kailahun. The AFRC was a group of Sierra Leone army soldiers who overthrew the government of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah in 1997. They formed an alliance with the RUF but were forcefully removed from power by West African peacekeepers in 1998.
Mr. Taylor said that upon hearing reports of what the West Side Boys had done, he facilitated the release of Johnny Paul Koroma after convincing the RUF commanders at a meeting in Liberia to let Mr. Koroma go. Mr. Taylor said he also had Johnny Paul Koroma travel to Liberia to speak with the West Side Boys to release the hostages. He said it was no secret that he did this because he wanted peace in Sierra Leone.
“The United Nations know, I know, Tejan Kabbah knows, Obasanjo knows, Eyadema knows, everybody is aware of what is going on,” he said.
Asked by his defense counsel Courtenay Griffiths whether he secured the release of Johnny Paul Koroma because he “was in charge of the RUF,” Mr. Taylor responded “no no no, I am not speaking ever or dealing with the RUF as president of Liberia alone. I am dealing with them as a member of the Committee of Six [Previously Committee of Five], the principal person responsible for the Sierra Leone process. That’s how am dealing with them.”
Mr. Taylor’s testimony continues tomorrow.