Charles Taylor did not have any knowledge of plans by rebel forces to invade Sierra Leone in 1991, he told told Special Court for Sierra Leone judges in The Hague today. In rebuffing prosecution charges that he was a key planner in the major rebel attack on his neighboring country during its 11-year conflict, Mr. Taylor dismissed the allegations as “lies.”
“I did not know of any prior plans for the invasion of Sierra Leone in 1991,” the accused former Liberian president said today.
Mr. Taylor was responding to the evidence of a protected prosecution witness who testified in 2008 that Mr. Taylor was part of a common plan with Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels to invade Sierra Leone. For purposes of protecting the witness’s identity, a huge portion of today’s hearings was held in closed session.
In his 2008 testimony, the witness said that in February 1991, he saw Mr. Taylor and RUF leader Foday Sankoh in a convoy. When they got to the Liberian town of Voinjama, they made plans for the RUF to invade Sierra Leone, the witness had testified. The witness further said that he personally sat with Mr. Taylor and discussed the invasion of Sierra Leone.
Dismissing the witness’s account as a lie, Mr. Taylor told the court that by February 1991, he had not yet gone to Voinjama.
“It’s a lie. I had not even gone from Kakata to Gbangha and so I would not have moved to Voinjama,” Mr. Taylor said. “There is no way you can get to Voinjama except you go through Gbangha.”
The witness testified to being present at Voinjama in 1991, where he said Mr. Taylor and and Mr. Sankoh developed a strategy to attack Sierra Leone from Voinjama, Vahun and Zimmi. Mr. Taylor denied the witness’s claim.
“May be he saw a ghost of someone looking like Charles Taylor, its all a lie,” he said. “I was never present there. I never discussed any strategies or plans with Sankoh because I was not there.”
Mr. Taylor further denied the witness’s allegations that he (Taylor) dominated the meeting where the plan to attack Sierra Leone in 1991 was discussed.
“How would I dominate a meeting that I never attended?” he asked. “How can I dominate a meeting when I’d never gone through military training?”
The witness’ testimony reinforced prosecution allegations that Mr. Taylor was part of a common plan and purpose with the RUF to attack Sierra Leone in March 1991 and that throughout the duration of the 11-year conflict in Sierra Leone, Mr. Taylor exercised some control or influence over the RUF. The prosecution further alleges that Mr. Taylor supplied arms and ammunition to RUF rebels and that all diamonds mined by the RUF were taken to Mr. Taylor in Liberia. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations.
Mr. Taylor today also told the court how he executed four of his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) Generals for conniving against him and helping the RUF in attacking Sierra Leone. The four men who were executed were Sam Lato, Oliver Vanney, Anthony Menkunagbe and Sam Towah.
“They put together a group called Black Ghadafa, an anti-NPFL group planning later on to kill me and destroy the leadership of the NPFL,” Mr. Taylor said. “They were arrested and it was at that investigation that it comes out that they were involved with Foday Sankoh. That is why they were killed.”
Several prosecution witnesses who claimed they were forcefully recruited when the RUF invaded Sierra Leone in 1991 had mentioned the names of these executed Generals as part of the group(s) that recruited and trained them in Sierra Leone. These men, they said, were Liberians.
Mr. Taylor’s testimony continues tomorrow.