A key military intelligence document, written by and for high level Sierra Leonean rebel commanders summarizing their group’s activities during a brutal time in the Sierra Leonean war, made no mention of any assistance by the then Liberian President, Charles Taylor, the Special Court for Sierra Leone heard today.
Mr. Taylor’s lead defense counsel, Courtenay Griffiths, today read from a ‘Salute Report’ written by former Revolutionary United Front (RUF) commander Sam Bockarie to his returning leader, Foday Sankoh. The report was written after Mr. Sankoh’s absence from the rebel group between 1997 and 1999, while he was imprisoned by Nigeria . The document provided a detailed account of the RUF’s activities while Mr. Sankoh was gone.
Reading from the report, the defense sought to rebut prosecution allegations that the RUF was controlled by Mr. Taylor during Sierra Leone ’s war while Mr. Sankoh was imprisoned in Nigeria , and that during this time, Mr. Taylor promoted RUF commander Sam Bockarie to the rank of Brigadier General. Witnesses have further testified in the trial that diamonds mined by the RUF were taken to Mr. Taylor and that in return, he supplied the rebels with arms and ammunition. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations.
Asked by his defense counsel whether there was any mention in the report of him giving orders for the RUF to join the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC)–a group of Sierra Leonean soldiers who overthrew the government of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah in May 1997–Mr. Taylor said “No. I was not privy to any of this information. From what I got, this was an instruction from Sankoh on tape that was played on radio.”
On his promotion to the rank of General in the RUF, the Salute Report quoted Sam Bockarie as saying “I was promoted to General by Johnny Paul Koroma [former leader of the AFRC].” Mr. Taylor buttressed this point by saying he never promoted Mr. Bockarie to such rank, saying that “in fact to the best of my recollection, when I met Bockarie, he was already a General.”
In his testimony today, Mr. Taylor told the judges that the Salute Report detailing the RUF’s activities in Foday Sankoh’s absence makes no mention of diamonds handed over to him.
“If they are sending diamonds to Taylor , why did they not say so in the Salute Report? This is because it never happened,” he said.
Mr. Taylor also told the judges that the Salute Report submitted to Mr. Sankoh talks about arms and ammunition that were purchased from United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO)–another Liberian rebel group which fought against Mr. Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL); the sale of diamonds to Lebanese businessmen; and Mr. Bockarie’s order to fellow RUF commander, Superman, to move with rebel fighters as reinforcements for the January 1999 attack on Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown. Mr. Taylor said that all these issues fall within the prosecution’s allegations against him but that there is no mention of his involvement in them based on the Salute Report.
Mr. Taylor again blamed Western Powers for the state of affairs in Liberia after he became president in 1997. He said the western powers encouraged him to disarm all fighting forces in Liberia , burning all arms and ammunition and thereby rendering him powerless only for the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebels to launch an attack against him.
“It ended up with an insurgency by LURD after we were led to burn our arms. After we burnt all our arms, LURD attacked,” Mr. Taylor said.
The young men and women who had been disarmed became vulnerable since they had no jobs or food.
“We did not have job for these young men and women who had fought. They had not been properly demobilized. They were available to fight. There is nothing to do when people take advantage of these young men and women,” he said.
Mr. Taylor said that Liberia therefore became a ground for mercenaries and many of these former fighters became recruits for conflicts in Sierra Leone , Angola and Congo .
He said that with all these events, the issues he faces now were bound to happen. “The Charles Taylor incident was an accident waiting to happen,” he said.
Mr. Taylor’s testimony continues on Monday. For the duration of Mr. Taylor’s testimony, there will be no court hearings on Fridays.