Charles Taylor explained how he successfully negotiated the release of United Nations peacekeepers who were held hostage by rebel forces in Sierra Leone during his continuing testimony in The Hague today. Meanwhile while his defense team highlighted a United Nations report alleging that West African peacekeepers were involved in diamond and arms trade with Sierra Leonean rebels.
In May 2000, when Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels took more than 500 United Nations peacekeepers hostage in Sierra Leone, Mr. Taylor said that he was mandated by Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) leaders and the United Nations to negotiate with the RUF rebels and secure the release of the hostages. Speaking on behalf of the international community, Mr. Taylor said he expressed his anger to the RUF rebels and told them the hostages needed to be released without any conditions.
Mr. Taylor said he called Issa Sesay, the RUF commander who was in possession of the UN hostages, to meet him in Liberia where the release of the peacekeepers was agreed. Mr. Taylor said ECOWAS leaders, UN and the United States Embassy officials were all informed that he was meeting with Issa Sesay.
“I was very tied up with this particular situation. I made it clear to Issa Sesay that the UN peacekeepers must be released unconditionally and voiced to him the outrage of the international community,” Mr. Taylor said.
“I was not speaking with Issa Sesay as Taylor but I was speaking for ECOWAS, the African Union and the entire international community. I told Issa that the worst they could play with was the United Nations. I was very upset and thought they were very stupid. I told him the UN people had to be released unconditionally. This was not a friendly chat,” Mr. Taylor explained.
Issa Sesay, Mr. Taylor said, eventually facilitated the release of the hostages to Liberian authorities in Liberia before they were all handed over to the UN.
After the abduction of the United Nations peacekeepers in May 2000, RUF leader Foday Sankoh was arrested and put into custody by the government of Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor told the judges today that because the RUF needed a leadership with whom to negotiate, he convened a meeting of ECOWAS heads of states and together, they all named Issa Sesay as interim leader of the RUF.
Mr. Taylor’s defense counsel also read in court today a 2000 United Nations report which indicated that the Nigerian ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) peacekeepers in Sierra Leone were involved in trading diamonds in return for guns with the RUF rebels.
The prosecution has alleged that Mr. Taylor was involved in trading diamonds in return for guns with RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor today dismissed this allegation, calling it “total nonsense.”
“There is no such thing as Foday Sankoh selling me diamonds,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor further said that he believed the allegation in the UN report that Nigerian ECOMOG peacekeepers sold guns to the RUF in return for diamonds was true, because while he was a rebel leader, he had the same transaction with the Nigerian ECOMOG peacekeepers in Liberia.
“There is nothing new about ECOMOG selling arms to rebel groups. I Charles Ghankay Taylor bought arms and ammunition from ECOMOG peacekeepers in Liberia during the civil war even while we were fighting them,” he said.
Mr. Taylor also told the judges today that he did not believe that diamonds played any role in the Sierra Leone conflict. “There is not sufficient evidence to really make such conclusion,” he said. Mr. Taylor said that he also could not tell whether the warring factions in Sierra Leone used diamonds to fuel the conflict in the country.
Mr. Taylor is being tried on allegations that he provided support to RUF rebels in Sierra Leone through the supply of arms and ammunition in return for diamonds. Diamonds, the prosecution says, were used by Mr. Taylor and RUF rebel leaders to fuel the conflict in Sierra Leone and that through his acts or omissions, Mr. Taylor bears responsibility for the crimes committed by RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor has denied the allegations. He is presently testifying as a witness in his own defense.
Mr. Taylor’s testimony continues tomorrow.