Former Sierra Leonean rebel commander Sam Bockarie did not take orders from Charles Taylor during the country’s 11-year conflict, Mr. Taylor told judges of the Special Court for Sierra Leone today.
Prosecutors claim that Revolutionary United Front (RUF) commander Sam Bockarie (known as “Mosquito”) used to take orders directly from Mr. Taylor and that the former Liberian president promoted Mr. Bockarie to the rank of Brigadier General in the RUF.
Mr. Taylor dismissed the allegations as “total nonsense.” He said that the RUF were “dealing with me as a president of Liberia and a member of the Committee of Five” – the group set up by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to try to bring peace to Sierra Leone.
“Bockarie did not seek orders from me. I did not seek to give him orders,” Mr. Taylor told the judges in The Hague.
The link between the two men and Bockarie’s RUF rebel group goes to the heart of the case against Charles Taylor in the Special Court: that is, whether Mr. Taylor was in control of the RUF’s actions in Sierra Leone during the war, including the crimes that were committed by the RUF, during the country’s conflict after 1996 — and whether Mr. Taylor had the power to stop those crimes or punish those who committed them.
The Prosecution has alleged that Mr. Taylor did give orders to Mr. Bockarie, and thus had effective control over the RUF forces at critical times during the Sierra Leonean conflict. Between 1997-1999, former RUF leader Foday Sankoh was jailed in Nigeria and during his absence, Sam Bockarie served as interim leader of the RUF. Several prosecution witnesses have testified that during Sankoh’s absence, Sam Bockarie used to take to take orders directly from Mr. Taylor and based on his advice, the RUF launched strategic operations such as the attacks on the diamond-rich town of Koidu in 1998 and Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown in 1999. Witnesses also testified that during this period, Sam Bockarie made several visits to Liberia based on Mr. Taylor’s invitation. During these visits, witnesses said that Mr. Bockarie travelled back to Sierra Leone with loads of arms and ammunition which the RUF used to cause mayhem against the people of Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor has denied all these allegations.
Mr Taylor has sought to explain the nature of his relationship to Mr. Bockarie during Mr. Taylor’s testimony in his own defense. On Monday July 3, 2009, Mr. Taylor told the Special Court that in September 1998, he invited Sam Bockarie to Liberia for the sole purpose of convincing him to end the war in Sierra Leone. He also admitted giving Bockarie an amount of money as a gift for him and his rebels.
In his testimony today, Mr. Taylor again admitted that in October and November 1998, Sam Bockarie also went to Liberia. During his visit in October 1998, Mr. Taylor said that Bockarie met with him, together with other security officers of Mr. Taylor’s Liberian government, as well as with ECOWAS leaders. Mr. Taylor said that on this visit also, he assigned a guest house to the RUF where they stayed whenever they were in Liberia for the purpose of discussing the peace process in Sierra Leone. He said all members of the ECOWAS Committee of Five also had access to the RUF leaders at the guest house.
In November 1998, Mr. Taylor said Bockarie also visited Liberia en route to Burkina Faso. Asked about his knowlege of the purpose of the visit, Mr. Taylor said he was informed that Sam Bockarie was travelling with a delegation of RUF commanders to seek advice from Burkina Faso president Blaise Campaore on the peace process in Sierra Leone.
Mr. Taylor told the judges that he had nothing to do with Mr. Bockarie’s trip to Burkina Faso. “I did not provide any assistance for the trip to Burkina Faso,” he said. According to Mr. Taylor, “every member of the Committee of Five knew about this trip. Even Tejan Kabbah [the Sierra Leonean president] was informed later.” Asked whether the RUF returned from Burkina Faso with arms and ammunition, Mr. Taylor said he did not know whether that happened.
The question of Mr. Taylor’s seniority over Bockarie in both age and stature – and whether that translated to control over him and his troops — has also been at the nub of some of the exchanges between Mr. Taylor and his lawyer, Courtenay Griffiths. Asked by his defense counsel today whether Bockarie took him to be a God Father, Mr. Taylor said that “I dont think Bockarie needed a God Father. You will be surprised at Bockarie’s intelligence and the people he dealt with. That will just be terrible if anyone tried to take advantage of a young man.”
Mr. Taylor also told the judges that Sam Bockarie was a very young man with whom he could not have sat to eat dinner. Asked by his defence counsel whether any such dinner took place, Mr. Taylor said “lets be serious now. No. He is a little boy, the same age with my Director of Security Benjamin Yeaten. Sam Bockarie could not be invited by a president to have dinner. He could not get to that level.”
Mr. Taylor also told the court that he did not plan the invasion of Freetown in January 1999 with the RUF. “Even this court has found out that RUF was not involved in the Freetown invasion,” he said.
Mr. Taylor’s testimony continues tomorrow.