Charles Taylor did not have any prior knowledge of rebel plans to invade Sierra Leone in 1991, and contrary to prosecution allegations against him, he did not order Sierra Leonean rebel forces to attack Guinea in 2000, he told Special Court for Sierra Leone judges last week.
“I did not know of any prior plans for the invasion of Sierra Leone in 1991,” the accused former Liberian president said on Wednesday in The Hague.
Earlier on Tuesday, Mr. Taylor denied allegations that in 2000, he ordered Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in Sierra Leone to attack Guinea because he believed that the Guinean government of Lansana Conte was supporting Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebels who were threatening to unseat Mr. Taylor’s government in Liberia. According to Mr. Taylor, he was too busy with other issues to have focussed on attacking Guinea.
“We were being attacked by LURD from Guinea but I was equally busy with other issues that were not war-like,” he said.
Mr. Taylor also said that if he ever wanted to attack Guinea, he had Liberians at his disposal for that purpose rather than using Sierra Leonean rebel forces.
“It was in my best interest to attack Guinea but why not use Liberians for that?” Mr. Taylor asked.
Mr. Taylor was responding to the testimony of a Prosecution witness, Marvin Mansaray, who in his March 2008 testimony testified that sometime in July 2000, RUF commander Issa Sesay told RUF fighters that Mr. Taylor had given an order for them to attack Guinea. The witness said that Mr. Taylor provided arms and ammunition, including bombs, for the operation.
Witness Mansaray’s testimony reinforced an earlier witness’ testimony, Abu Keita, who in his January 2008 testimony told the Special Court for Sierra Leone that after the release of UN peacekeepers who were held hostage by RUF rebels in 2000, Mr. Taylor gave orders to the RUF to attack Guinea. The attack, Witness Keita said, was led by an RUF commander called Short Bai Bureh. The witness said that Mr. Taylor gave RUF commander Mr. Sesay a satellite phone and 50 boxes of ammunition. Mr. Taylor on Tuesday told the judges in his testimony that this never happened.
“Never happened. Oh my dear, it is just too much. It is a blatant lie. There is no such thing as anybody getting even one box of ammunition from me,” he said
Mr. Taylor also dismissed as lies, the testimonies of both Witnesses Mansaray and Keita that he (Taylor) provided weapons for RUF rebels to facilitate their operations in Sierra Leone. Witness Mansaray in his March 2008 testimony said that sometime in April 1999, Mr. Taylor supplied the RUF with weapons, including an anti aircraft twin barrel gun. The weapons, the witness said, were presented at a muster parade in Magburaka, northern Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor denied supplying the RUF with any such weapon.
“No I did not. To have had a weapon of that sort means we did not disarm. A twin barrel anti aircraft gun is not a little piece of equipment,” Mr. Taylor said. “It takes two operators to fire that weapon and it is manned by a squad of ten men. It’s not a little toy. It’s a blatant, blatant lie.”
Mr. Taylor had the same response for Witness Keita’s evidence that Mr. Taylor had provided weapons for use by RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor further dismissed Witness Keita’s allegations that together with RUF Commander Sam Bockarie and Mr. Taylor’s Special Security Service (SSS) commander Benjamin Yeaten, he (Keita) had visited Mr. Taylor’s White Flower residence in October 1998. Mr. Taylor today said that he has never even met Witness Keita in person.
“I didn’t know the gentleman, never met him,” Mr. Taylor said.
“We are talking about October 1998. I was not living in White Flower at this time. I moved there on my birthday in January 1999,” he added.
Witness Keita testified in January 2008 that he was recruited by Benjamin Yeaten, on Mr. Taylor’s orders, to join the RUF in Sierra Leone and establish a unit there called the Scorpion Unit. Witness Keita said that the letter authorizing his appointment was signed by Mr. Taylor. During his 2008 testimony, however,Witness Keita, did not produce the letter bearing Mr. Taylor’s signature in court. According to the witness, the said letter was kept at his mother’s house in Monrovia but was destroyed by fire when LURD rebels attacked Monrovia and burnt his mother’s house. Mr. Taylor denied the witness’s testimony, accusing him of having joined another rebel faction leader, Roosevelt Johnson, to fight against his (Taylor’s) forces.
“Abu Keita’s evidence is a blatant and intentional fabrication. I think he designed this,” Mr. Taylor said.
On Wednesday, Mr. Taylor responded to the testimony of another protected prosecution witness, who in his 2008 testimony reinforced prosecution allegations that Mr. Taylor was part of a common design with RUF rebels to attack Sierra Leone in 1991.
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, it’s 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 on Wednesday 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.
On Thursday, Mr. Taylor also responded to the evidence of a prosecution witness who in his 2008 testimony told the court that while the government of Sierra Leone and the RUF rebels were in the Togolese capital Lome for peace talks in 1999, Mr. Taylor gave a member of the RUF external delegation, Ibrahim Bah, an amount of $20,000 for the RUF leader Mr. Sankoh. Mr. Taylor said that this was not true.
“If I wanted to send money for Sankoh, I would have done so through the Liberian Foreign Minister who was in Lome. It would have been a good gesture just like Eyadema and Obasanjo did give him money, but I did not,” Mr. Taylor said. [Mr. Taylor was referring to former Togolese president, Gnassingbe Eyadema, and former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo].
According to the witness, Mr. Sankoh was very agitated upon receiving what he called “a peanut” from Mr. Taylor because Mr. Sankoh had received reports that RUF commander Sam Bockarie had given huge amounts of diamonds to Mr. Taylor during Mr. Sankoh’s incarceration. Between 1997 and 1999, Mr. Sankoh was in jail in Nigeria and in his absence, Mr. Bockarie acted as leader of the RUF. When rebels attacked Sierra Leone’s capital in January 1999, Mr. Sankoh was released and the government of Sierra Leone decided to hold peace talks with the RUF. This led to the signing of the peace agreement between the two parties in the Togolese capital Lome in 1999.
Prosecution witnesses have alleged that during Mr. Sankoh’s absence, Mr. Bockarie took orders from Mr. Taylor. Witnesses have also alleged that all diamonds mined by the RUF were given to Mr. Taylor for safe-keeping.
According to the protected witness, whose testimony Mr. Taylor sought to discredit on Thursday, Mr. Sankoh was expecting to receive more money from Mr. Taylor because the former Liberian president was in possession of diamonds on behalf of the RUF. The witness said that Mr. Sankoh did not see it as a gesture for Mr. Taylor to give him the $20,000. Mr. Taylor dismissed the witness’ account.
“This is total foolishness because I did not receive any money or diamonds from Bockarie. If I had sent him that money and he had said that it was peanuts, then it would have been ungrateful of him. Bockarie did not say so in his report to Sankoh,” Mr. Taylor said.
The prosecution witness also said that while members of the RUF delegation to the peace talks in Togo were on transit in Liberia, Mr. Taylor gave each of them an amount of $300. Mr. Taylor admitted in court that while he did give members of the RUF delegation some money, he cannot remember what the exact amount was.
“I did give them some money but I cannot remember the amount. I agree,” he said.
Mr. Taylor’s also challenged the authenticity of a hand-written report from the Black Revolutionary Guard Unit of the RUF which was presented to Mr. Sankoh after his release in 1999. The report, which was presented last year as a prosecution exhibit, stated that the RUF received support in the form of weapons and military advice from Mr. Taylor while Mr. Sankoh was in custody.
“Why will this individual present a hand-written report when the commander is already there, that the commander cannot sign? This is the part of their handiwork here. This is fabrication, this is what is going on,” Mr. Taylor responded.
A 16-page minute of an oral report submitted to Mr. Sankoh after his release in 1999 also indicated that Mr. Taylor received about 1832 pieces of diamonds from the RUF for safekeeping while Mr. Sankoh was in custody. The report, however, does not make any reference to Mr. Taylor giving war-like materials to the RUF. All reference to receipt of war-like materials in the report were about help received from the RUF’s “main helper in Burkina Faso.”
Mr. Taylor also dismissed allegations that he had a father and son relationship with RUF commander Sam Bockarie. According to prosecution evidence, Mr. Bockarie was very loyal to Mr. Taylor and because of the money Mr. Taylor lavished on him, Mr. Bockarie could not even take commands from the RUF’s leader Mr. Sankoh anymore. A prosecution witnesses testified in 2008 that after the signing of the Lome Peace Agreement in 1999, Mr. Bockarie ignored Mr. Sankoh’s orders to disarm the RUF rebels and insisted on consulting Mr. Taylor first before proceeding with any such orders from Mr. Sankoh. The witness said it was on this basis that Mr. Bockarie relocated to Liberia when he fell out with the RUF leader in Sierra Leone. The witness said that the relationship between the two men ended when Mr. Taylor decided to execute Mr. Bockarie and his entire family.
Mr. Taylor dismissed this account, saying “this is all total nonsense.”
“He [Bockarie] did not come to Liberia because he was my son but because he had been given the strongest message by ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] that you either do it [disarm] or you move on, and he decided to move on,” Mr. Taylor added. He denied allegations that he executed Mr. Bockarie and his family.
Mr. Taylor has been charged by the Prosecution with aiding and abetting the RUF’s crimes through the exchange of weapons and other support for diamonds, and also with being in a position of control over the RUF so as to be able to prevent or punish crimes committed by RUF forces. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations. He is presently testifying as a witness in his own defense.
Mr. Taylor’s testimony continues on Tuesday.