Despite allegations that Charles Taylor backed and controlled Sierra Leone’s rebel group during the country’s 11-year conflict, the former Liberian president today said this allegation could not be true because he did not have any contact with top rebel leader Foday Sankoh after May 1992.
“I never talked to Foday Sankoh after May 1992. I only saw him again in 1999,” Mr. Taylor said during his testimony today.
Mr. Taylor was responding to the evidence of Revolutionary United Front (RUF) radio operator Dauda A. Fornie (alias DAF), who in his December 2008 testimony said that as radio operator for the RUF, 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. Mr. Taylor dismissed the witness’s evidence as lies.
“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.
In his December 2008 testimony, Witness Fornie told the court that while he served as radio operator for Mr. Sankoh, he contacted Mr. Taylor’s radio operator regularly with messages for Mr. Taylor. The witness said that every morning, he would contact Mr. Taylor’s radio station called Tree Top to know if there was any information for Mr. Sankoh from Mr. Taylor. He said that around mid 1993, Mr. Sankoh used to instruct him to contact Mr. Taylor’s station Tree Top with messages for Mr. Taylor to send weapons for the RUF.
Mr. Taylor today dismissed the witness’s assertions as “total nonsense.”
“There was no official contact between Mr. Sankoh and me or my defense minister,” he added.
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 National Patriotic Front of Liberia (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.
Mr. Taylor also dismissed the witness’s testimony that in late 1997, when the RUF and members of the Sierra Leone Army joined forces to establish the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC)–a junta regime that overthrew the government of president Ahmed Tejan Kabbah in May 1997–two members of the RUF and AFRC merger, Memunatu Deen and Fonte Kanu, traveled to Liberia and returned with loads of arms and ammunition.
“It is not true. Late 1997, AFRC is in power and I am at the infancy of my government. There was no material that will come from Liberia and go to anybody,” Mr. Taylor responded.
Witness Fornie in his 2008 testimony also told the judges that in February 1998, he traveled with RUF Commander Sam Bockarie to Monrovia, during which he used head of Mr. Taylor’s Special Security Service (SSS) Benjamin Yeaten’s radio to monitor the forceful removal of the AFRC from power by West African peacekeepers in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor also dismissed this aspect of the witness’s testimony as a lie.
“Total false, erroneous. It is misleading. I don’t know how they put this thing together. Bockarie does not come to Liberia in February 1998. He came in September 1998 upon my invitation,” Mr. Taylor explained.
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.”
The witness further said that after the signing of the peace agreement between the Government of Sierra Leone and the RUF in 1999, RUF commander Mr. Bockarie insisted on consulting Mr. Taylor before disarming his fighters, contrary to instructions from the RUF leader Mr. Sankoh that all RUF fighters should be disarmed. Mr. Taylor today called this assertion “impossible.”
Mr. Taylor’s testimony continues on Tuesday. There will be no hearings on Monday due to the observance of the Islamic holiday of Ramadan in The Hague.