For almost a decade, the international community has seen Charles Taylor’s role as one which fueled Sierra Leone’s civil conflict through gun running and drug smuggling, he lamented to Special Court for Sierra Leone judges today. Nothing he did could change this impression and Liberia suffered because of it, Mr. Taylor said.
“They had made up their minds, it really did not matter whatever I did,” Mr. Taylor told the judges today when responding to international community allegations against him that he provided support to Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels who waged an 11 years war in Sierra Leone.
Mr. Taylor has been responding to a 2000 United Nations (UN) Expert Panel Report which alleges that he was fueling the conflict in Sierra Leone through an arms-for-diamond trade with the RUF rebels.
Mr. Taylor told the judges that when the UN Expert Panel Report came out in 2000, accusing him of providing support to the RUF rebels, the United Kingdom, through its ambassador Jeremy Greenstock, proposed sanctions against Liberia at the UN Security Council. As a condition to lift the sanctions against Liberia, Ambassador Greenstock said that Liberia “needed to take urgent steps to stop support for the RUF and the trafficking of diamonds and arms to and from Sierra Leone.”
ECOWAS leaders, Mr. Taylor said, asked for a delay of the sanctions “so Liberia could take steps to address the concerns in the report in two months.”
Despite this plea from ECOWAS leaders, the UN Security Council went ahead and voted for sanctions against Liberia. “Sometimes, regional response does not matter. When one of these big countries want to do something, they will do it.”
Mr. Taylor said similar fate befell him when he became president of Liberia in 1997. Prior to his election as president, the UN had imposed an arms embargo on Liberia. After his election as president, Mr. Taylor said ECOWAS lifted the arms embargo on Liberia and requested the UN Security Council to do the same. The Security Council, Mr. Taylor said refused this request from ECOWAS.
In 2001, Mr. Taylor made another plea for the lifting of the arms embargo when he wrote a letter to the UN giving them the “list of weapons we wanted for self defense purposes and told them to send observers to monitor the use of the said weapons.” The UN, Mr. Taylor said, refused his appeal at a time when insurgents were attacking his government with support from Guinea.
As a condition to lift sanctions, Mr. Taylor said that the UN asked him to address the following concerns:
1. Expel all RUF members from Liberia
2. Stop all military and financial support for the RUF
3. Stop the importation of diamonds from Sierra Leone
4. Freeze all RUF assets in Liberia
5. Ground all Liberian aircraft
To address these issues, Mr. Taylor said that he gave a 72-hour ultimatum to all RUF personnel to leave Liberia. Mr. Taylor said that even RUF commander Sam Bockarie, who had relocated to Liberia with the approval of the international communit,y had to leave for the Ivory Coast with a handful of his followers. The bulk of the followers that Sam Bockarie took with him to Liberia when he left Sierra Leone in 1999 had to stay in Liberia because they had now become Liberian citizens and were part of Mr. Taylor’s Anti Terrorist Unit (ATU). He said he therefore saw no need to ask them out of the country. Mr. Taylor said that Sam Bockarie had become a “center of allegations and was bringing harm to the Liberian republic” and so he had no option but to ask him to get out of the country.
On the other conditions raised by the UN, including stopping all support for the RUF, Mr. Taylor said there was no need to respond, as he had not been providing any support for the RUF. He said that he took steps to stop the importation of diamonds from Sierra Leone and even asked for international support to monitor the Sierra Leone-Liberia border but he did not receive any such support. Mr. Taylor also said he took steps to check if RUF members had any assets in Liberia which needed to be frozen but he found none. Mr. Taylor said he further grounded all aircraft that was registered in Liberia.
Mr. Taylor also told the judges that Ambassador Greenstock accused him of setting up a meeting in January 2001 in Ivory Coast between the RUF and an international businessman Lionel Menning. Mr Taylor denied this allegation, saying that “Liberia was not involved in setting up this so called meeting.” He said that at the time of this “so called meeting,” Lionel Menning was in custody in Italy. “There was no such meeting,” he said.
Mr. Taylor is responding to allegations that he had control over RUF rebels in Sierra Leone and that in return for diamonds, he provided arms and ammunition for the rebels which they used to cause mayhem on the people of Sierra Leone. He is presently testifying as a witness in his own defense.
Mr. Taylor’s testimony continues on Monday.