Charles Taylor had the international community’s approval to grant political asylum to Sam Bockarie after the rebel commander left Sierra Leone in December 1999, Mr. Taylor told judges today at his trial in The Hague.
Mr. Taylor told the judges that Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) leaders realized that Sam Bockarie’s continued presence in Sierra Leone was a hindrance to the peace process in the country and a unanimous decision was taken that he should leave the country and obtain political asylum in Liberia.
“Bockarie did not voluntarily leave Sierra Leone. ECOWAS extracted Bockarie from Sierra Leone. That’s how he left. He did not leave Sierra Leone voluntarily. He came to Liberia in December of 1999. People did not know the inside story. But this is what happened. It was an ECOWAS extraction, they took him out of Sierra Leone, he had no choice,” Mr. Taylor said.
When the government of Sierra Leone and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels signed a peace agreement in June 1999, the disarmament of combatants started in the country. Reports indicate that while RUF leader, Foday Sankoh, wanted all his forces to be disarmed, his deputy Sam Bockarie was opposed to such a move. This led to a conflict between Foday Sankoh and Sam Bockarie, and at the time, according to Mr. Taylor, “it appears Bockarie wants to challenge Sankoh.”
Mr. Taylor said he got involved to settle the conflict between the two rebel leaders by inviting them to a meeting in Liberia. This, Mr. Taylor said, happened with the consent of the United Nations, ECOWAS leaders and the government of Sierra Leone. “Everyone knew about it. The Committee of Six [originally Committee of 5, this body was set up by West African leaders to facilitate a peaceful end to the conflict in Sierra Leone], the United Nations Secretary General, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in Liberia (SRSG) and [Sierra Leonean] president Kabbah knew about it. In fact, Sankoh was taken to Liberia on board a UN air craft,” he explained.
Mr. Taylor said after meeting with the two Sierra Leonean rebel leaders, he informed the United Nations and ECOWAS leaders of what he had said to the rebel leaders and his assessment of the situation.
Mr. Taylor said that when the clashes continued in the RUF, ECOWAS had no option but to get Sam Bockarie out of Sierra Leone. The decision to take Sam Bockarie out of Sierra Leone, Mr. Taylor said, was taken at a meeting with former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo at the Roberts International Airport in Liberia. In December 1999, Sam Bockarie eventually left Sierra Leone for Liberia with about 300-400 RUF fighters who were loyal to him (Bockarie). Mr. Taylor said that Sam Bockarie and all his fighters were granted Liberian citizenship in order to integrate them into the Liberian society. Members of the international community, he said, were fully informed of everything he did.
As part of the arrangement to get Sam Bockarie out of Sierra Leone and relocate him to Liberia, Mr. Taylor said that the United States government agreed to provide scholarship for Sam Bockarie to undergo military training in the United States.
“The United States promised that they would assist, not the upkeep of the people but the discussion was held as to what to do for Bockarie and they had said that they would probably help to give him a scholarship to do extended military training at one of their military bases in the United States but that did not come to pass,” he said.
Mr. Taylor also said that Nigerian president Obasanjo gave a sum of 50,000 United States dollars to sustain Sam Bockarie and his men in Liberia.
Mr. Taylor said he later on found it strange when the United Nations and the United States opposed Sam Bockarie’s presence in Liberia. “This is strange. The man has just come in after agreeing with me and now you want me to throw him out? The same US had said they would give Bockarie training so he will cease to be a rebel.”
Mr. Taylor said that once Sam Bockarie and his men were in Liberia and had obtained Liberian citizenship, his government decided to recruit them into the security sector. They were all trained and became part of Mr. Taylor’s Anti Terrorist Unit (ATU)–an elite force that provided security for Mr. Taylor. The ATU was headed by Mr. Taylor’s son Chuckie Taylor, who himself has been convicted in the United States for crimes of torture committed in Liberia.
The prosecution has alleged that Mr. Taylor provided support to the RUF rebels in Sierra Leone through the supply of arms and ammunition. The prosecution has further alleged that RUF commanders were answerable to Mr. Taylor. Several prosecution witnesses testified that in 1999, when Sam Bockarie fell out with RUF leader Foday Sankoh, Mr. Taylor willingly offered to host Sam Bockarie in Liberia, providing houses for him and his family and sending him and his fighters to launch attacks in Ivory Coast. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations, saying that his involvement in Sierra Leone’s conflict was for peaceful purposes only.
Mr. Taylor’s testimony continues tomorrow.