Charles Taylor did not command Sierra Leonean rebel commander Issa Sesay to release the United Nations hostages, but rather conveyed the message of the international community that the peacekeepers had to be released unconditionally, he said today.
“Its a lie. I did not command him. The only thing I did on the UN situation was to tell Issa Sesay to release those people and to realease them unconditionally,” Mr. Taylor said. I told him the concerns of the international community and that if they did not release the peacekeepers, the international community will come down on them like a hammer.”
Mr. Taylor was responding to the testimony of a prosecution witness, whose identity was not released because he testified under protective measures. The greater details of the witness’s testimony were discussed in private session. The witness had testified that when UN peacekeepers were abducted by Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in 2000, Mr. Taylor called RUF commander Issa Sesay to Liberia and commander Mr. Sesay to release the UN peacekeepers. According to the witness, Mr. Taylor told Mr. Sesay to “release the UN hostages so I’ll tell the world that whatever I say happens.”
Mr. Taylor dismmissed the witness’s testimony as “total foolishness.”
In May 2000, RUF rebels in Sierra Leone held over 500 UN peacekeepers hostage, an action which eventually led to the arrest of the rebel group’s leader Foday Sankoh. Issa Sesay, who was the RUF’s most senior commander after Mr. Sankoh’s arrest, later facilitated the release of the peacekeepers. Witnesses have testified that Mr. Taylor influenced the RUF to release the peacekeepers. Mr. Taylor has said he had the blessing of West African Leaders and the United Nations to negotiate the release of the hostages. The hostages were eventually taken to Liberia where they were released and then handed over to the UN.
In his testimony today, Mr. Taylor explained that when he called Mr. Sesay to negotiate the release of the peacekeepers, Mr. Sesay wanted the RUF’s leader Foday Sankoh to be released as a condition for the release the peacekeepers. According to Mr. Taylor, he told Mr. Sesay that “we cannot tie Sankoh’s release to the release of the hostages.”
“The whole issue was not my decision. I conveyed to him the message of the international community,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr.Taylor also refuted the witness’s assertion that after the release of the hostages, Mr. Sesay returned to Sierra Leone with arms and ammunition, given to him by Mr. Taylor for use by the RUF. Mr. Taylor dismissed this allegation, saying “it is a blatant lie.”
The same prosecution witness, whose testimony Mr. Taylor sought to refute today had testified that after the signing of the Lome Peace Agreement by the RUF and the Government of Sierra Leone in 1999, Mr. Taylor supplied the RUF with a helicopter load of ammunition. Mr. Taylor responded that the only helicopter which ferried RUF rebels from Liberia to Sierra Leone belonged to the UN and so if any ammunition was on board the said helicopter, then there “must have been complicity on the part of the UN.”
According to the witness, Mr. Taylor was not sincere in his dealings with West African leaders to bring peace to Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor denied these allegations. The witness further said that when RUF commander Sam Bockarie and Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) leader Johnny Paul Koroma travelled from Liberia to Sierra Leone after the signing of the Lome Peace Agreement in 1999, Mr. Taylor gave the two men about $15,000 for use by their fighting forces. Mr. Taylor today denied giving the two men the said amount, but admitted that he gave them $10,000. He said that there was no ulterior motive in his gesture to the two men.
Mr. Taylor also today refuted the testimony of Prosecution Witness TFI-567, who, in his testimony in July 2008 claimed that in 1992, Mr. Taylor supplied RUF leader Mr. Sankoh with 50 boxes of AK-47 rifles, RPG boxes, GPMGs and other types of arms and ammunition which according to the witness were to be used to attack the diamond rich town of Kono. According to the witness, Mr. Sankoh told him he (Sankoh) and “his brother Taylor had decided that this was the right time to capture Kono.” Mr. Taylor today denied this allegation.
“Sankoh and I did not talk about the capture of Kono. I did not know if Kono was captured at that time. If I had 50 boxes of AK-47 rifles, I would have captured Monrovia in 1992. Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor’s testimony continues tomorrow.