Charles Taylor did not order or know about an infamous operation launched by rebel forces in Sierra Leone during its civil war aiming to ensure that anything that had life must be killed, he told Special Court for Sierra Leone judges today.
“I was not aware of ‘Operation No Living Thing’,” Mr. Taylor said at his trial in The Hague.
During the presentation of the prosecution’s case, witnesses testified that Mr. Taylor worked in concert with Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) rebels to plan “Operation No Living Thing” against the Sierra Leonean population. After the operation, which saw the commission of grave atrocities by the RUF and AFRC rebel forces, the United States released a statement on May 12, 1998 expressing concerns about the atrocities that were committed by the rebels. The statement also said sources indicated that the rebels were supported by an unnamed West African government. In his testimony today, Mr. Taylor denied any involvement in such operation.
“I did not instruct anybody to launch such an operation. I had no control over anybody in Sierra Leone. There is no way that I would be in control or even acquiesce in any type of situation of this sort when throughout the revolution in Liberia we never had these kinds of atrocities, so this is impossible,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor told the judges that he had “no advantage whatsoever” to gain from getting involved in such an operation in Sierra Leone.
Mr. Taylor also admitted in court today that he knew there were Liberians who were fighting in Sierra Leone but these Liberians were mercenaries paid for their services by the fighting forces in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor referenced several discussions that he had with former Sierra Leonean president Ahmed Tejan Kabbah about the presence of Liberians in Sierra Leone.
“Kabbah will tell me that there were Liberians fighting in Sierra Leone and I will say to him that I don’t know how those Liberians got to Sierra Leone but we were trying to get them back to their country,” he said.
He explained further that those Liberians who were fighting in Sierra Leone were not part of his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) but were remnants of other Liberian factions who had found their way to Sierra Leone.
“I thought they were just ULIMO-K [United Liberian Movement for Democracy in Liberia] and Armed Forces of Liberia personnel who had ran away following my election and they were just there as mercenaries,” the accused former Liberian president said.
Mr. Taylor is accused of sending Liberians to Sierra Leone to fight alongside the RUF rebels against the government and people of Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor has denied the allegations.
Mr. Taylor said he made frantic efforts to get the Liberians to leave Sierra Leone by offering them guarantees of non-prosecution for acting as mercenaries in a foreign country. He said that after some efforts, “some of them returned, some were unidentifiable but those with the Special Task Force [a group of Liberian fighters who reports indicate escaped to Sierra Leone during the Liberian conflict and eventually fought alongside the Sierra Leone army] did not return. They remained in Sierra Leone and some even applied to join the Sierra Leone army.”
Mr. Taylor also today refuted prosecution claims that whenever West African peacekeepers, based in Liberia, took off with their Alpha Jet aircraft to bomb RUF territories in Sierra Leone, he would send a radio message to the rebels to escape or put up a defense. Asked by his defense counsel whether he ever had any prior knowledge before the Alpha Jets took off from Liberia to launch operations in Sierra Leone, Mr. Taylor said “I couldn’t. The only time we would know of Alpha Jets was when they were in the air because they were very noisy.”
Several prosecutors, including former RUF radio operators, have testified that whenever the Alpha Jet was getting ready to leave Liberia to attack RUF positions in Sierra Leone, Mr. Taylor’s radio operators would alert the RUF of such an attack. Mr. Taylor has denied being involved in any such communications with the RUF.
Mr. Taylor’s testimony continues tomorrow.