Charles Taylor this week told Special Court for Sierra Leone judges that that he did not command Sierra Leone rebel commander Issa Sesay to release United Nations hostages, but rather only conveyed to him the message of the international community that the peace keepers had to be released unconditionally. Mr. Taylor also denied allegations that weapons were transported from his White Flower residence in Monrovia for use by rebel forces in Sierra Leone.
Throughout the week, Mr. Taylor made efforts to refute the evidence of prosecution witnesses who testified that he used his influence over Revolutionary United Front(RUF) rebels and commanded them to release UN peacekeepers who were held hostage by the RUF in May 2000, that weapons were transported weapons from his residence in Monrovia to RUF rebels in Sierra Leone, and that he gave strategic advice to the RUF rebels such as the capture of the diamond rich town of Kono and the construction of airstrips where air crafts would land with weapons for the RUF.
Responding to allegations on Monday that he commanded RUF commander Issa Sesay to release the UN hostages, the accused former Liberian president told the judges that “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 release 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,” he added.
A prosecution witness had testified that after the abduction of the UN peacekeepers by the RUF in May 2000, Mr. Taylor commanded Mr. Sesay to “release the UN hostages so I’ll tell the world that whatever I say happens.”
Mr. Taylor dismissed 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. Mr. 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 on Monday, Mr. Taylor explained that when he called Mr. Sesay to negotiate the release of the peacekeepers, Mr. Sesay wanted the RUF’s leader Mr. Sankoh to be released as a condition for the release of 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 dismissed as “blatant lie” the witness’s testimony that after the release of the UN peacekeepers, Mr. Sesay returned to Sierra Leone with arms and ammunition which were supplied by Mr. Taylor for use by the RUF.
Mr. Taylor also 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 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.
In his testimony on Tuesday, Mr. Taylor told the judges that weapons were never transported from his White Flower residence in Monrovia to RUF rebels in Sierra Leone.
“Nobody ever picked up weapons from White Flower. Nobody ever picked up a single weapon there, not even Benjamin Yeaten,” the accused former Liberian president said during his testimony on Tuesday.
Mr. Taylor was responding to the evidence of Prosecution Witness TF1-375 who in his June 2008 testimony told the judges that he picked up arms and ammunition from Mr. Taylor’s residence and sent them to RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. The witness also said that another Liberian rebel called Jungle had told him in 1997 that he also transported arms and ammunition from the same White Flower residence and had taken them to RUF commander Sam Bockarie in Sierra Leone. The witness further said that in 1998, he collected loads of arms and ammunition from Mr. Taylor’s private farm in Gbangha and took them to RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. He said that the weapons were used to launch “Operation Fiti Fata”–an operation which was geared towards the capture of the diamond rich town of Kono. Mr. Taylor dismissed these allegations as lies.
“I say he is lying. He must be confused. How could I, as president of Liberia, take ammunition and give it to him?” Mr. Taylor asked. “I have nothing else to do as president but to take some ammunition like a shop boy and give it to him to take to Sierra Leone? In fact, White Flower does not exist in 1997. I moved into that building in January 1998,” the accused former president said.
Charles Taylor also dismissed as “lies” the evidence of a prosecution witness and former RUF radio operator, Perry Mohamed Kamara, alias King Perry, who said Mr. Taylor had talked regularly to top RUF leaders during the entire conflict in Sierra Leone, asked the rebels to build airstrips in Sierra Leone for weapon deliveries from him, and provided food to the rebel forces when in Monrovia. The witness further said in his February 2008 testimony that the RUF acted on Mr. Taylor’s advice when they attacked the diamond rich town of Kono in 1992-93.
“I never talked to Sankoh about any operations in Kono,” Mr. Taylor said. “Never did, never instructed, never discussed it with them at all.”
Witness Perry also testified that in 1994, Mr. Taylor advised RUF Leader Mr. Sankoh to construct an airstrip where arms and ammunition will be delivered by aircraft for use by the RUF. In his testimony on Wednesday, Mr. Taylor denied having any contact with the RUF in 1994.
“What am I going to be talking to Sankoh about in 1994? There was just no contact in 1993 or 1994 between me or the RUF,” the accused former president said.
Witness Perry had also said that while Sam Bockarie acted as leader of the RUF during Mr. Sankoh’s detention from 1997 to 1999, Mr. Taylor gave Mr. Bockarie instructions to construct an airstrip in Kono where flights would land with weapons for the RUF. Mr. Taylor dismissed the allegation as false.
“I did not give such instructions. If this was the case, then Sam Bockarie’s Salute Report is incomplete and he deceived his boss. I believe he will not have hidden these things from Sankoh. He must be ungrateful then,” Mr. Taylor said.
“Your honor, this thing is all a lie. I gave no such advice. So help me God,” the former president added.
On the supply of food to rebel forces in Sierra Leone, Mr. Taylor told the judges that he did not provide food for the RUF. The RUF’s leader Mr. Sankoh bought food and other supplies in Liberia for his fighters in Sierra Leone, Mr. Taylor explained. He further emphasized that the only time he had a relationship with the RUF was in 1991 to early 1992 when his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) collaborated with the RUF to fight a common enemy, the United Liberation Movement for Democracy (ULIMO), a rebel group which Mr. Taylor alleged was supported by the Sierra Leone government against his NPFL rebels.
“I was more concerned about security at the border. The Sierra Leone government was arming ULIMO and so i wanted to fight ULIMO in Sierra Leone so i’ll prevent fighting them in Liberia,” he said.
Mr. Taylor admitted that during the period of his collaboration with the RUF in 1991 to 1992, he provided small amounts of arms and ammunition for the RUF in order to fight against ULIMO in Sierra Leone.
On Thursday, Mr. Taylor dismissed as “untrue” prosecution allegations that during the entire conflict in Sierra Leone, he (Taylor) maintained relationship with and gave support to the RUF rebels. The accused former president told the judges that after May 1992, he never communicated with RUF leader Mr. Sankoh. He said he only saw Mr. Sankoh again in 1999.
“I never talked to Foday Sankoh after May 1992. I only saw him again in 1999,” Mr. Taylor said during his testimony.
Mr. Taylor dismissed as lies the testimony of a former RUF radio operator Dauda A. Fornie (DAF) who in his December 2008 testimony said that he facilitated communication between RUF leader Mr. Sankoh and Mr. Taylor, during which time Mr. Taylor sent arms and ammunition for use by RUF rebels in Sierra Leone.
“O Boy, I swear. It is so big a lie. I’ll just be repeating myself that it’s a lie and I don’t want to sound like a broken record,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor explained that it is possible for Mr. Sankoh to have been in touch with some of his (Sankoh’s) “Special Forces” colleagues who were part of Mr. Taylor’s NPFL, and with whom Mr. Sankoh might have undergone training in Libya. Any such contact, Mr. Taylor said, was not within his knowledge and he would have acted to stop it if he had known about it.
“If I had known that any senior operator was in contact with Sankoh, he would have been removed and punished,” he told the judges.
Witness Fornie said in his December 2008 testimony that as radio operator, he would monitor the movement of weapons from Mr. Sankoh’s base in Gbangha until they reached RUF territory. He said that when the weapons arrived, Mr. Sankoh will tell him to contact Mr. Taylor’s Tree Top station and inform Mr. Taylor that the weapons had arrived. He said that sometime in 1993, he heard Mr. Sankoh and Mr. Taylor talking directly on a VHF radio.
“That is a direct lie,” Mr. Taylor said today as a dismissed the witness’s testimony.
Also in his 2008 testimony, Witness Fornie said that Mr. Taylor was like the Commander in Chief of the RUF rebels and the RUF leadership would consult Mr. Taylor before taking any major decisions. According to the witness, when Mr. Sankoh was arrested first from 1997 to 1999 and then in May 2000, Mr. Taylor was effectively the leader of the RUF.
Mr. Taylor dismissed this evidence, saying “It is not true that I am running the RUF at anytime. Foday Sankoh remained in full control of his organization.”
Mr. Taylor is responding to allegations that he provided support to RUF rebels in Sierra Leone through the supply of arms and ammunition and that he helped plan RUF operations, thus helping the rebels commit atrocities against the government and people of Sierra Leone. He has denied all the allegations against him. He is presently testifying as a witness in his own defense.
Mr. Taylor’s testimony continues on Tuesday.