Charles Taylor today made efforts to refute a prosecution witness’ claim that Mr. Taylor was part of a common plan to destabilize West Africa.
Between Febrary 8 to 11 2008, the Prosecution’s eleventh witness, a Gambian named Suwandi Camara, testified that that Mr. Taylor, together with Revolutionary United Front (RUF) leader Foday Sankoh, and a Gambian rebel leader named Dr. Mani met in Burkina Faso and developed a common plan to destabilize West Africa. The witness also testified that Mr. Taylor recruited and armed children under the age of 15 years. (Mr. Camara was a linkage witness who said he was trained alongside Mr. Taylor in Libya and later became part of Mr. Taylor’s Special Security Service (SSS)).
In his testimony today, Mr. Taylor denied ever knowing the Suwandi Camara and dismissed as lies the witness’ claims that he (Mr. Taylor) had plans to destabilize West Africa.
“There was no such thing like this that occured,” Mr. Taylor said.
Asked by his defense counsel, Courtenay Griffiths, whether he did “coordinate such a movement with Dr. Mani and Foday Sankoh,” Mr. Taylor said no. He elaborated that “there was not one Sierra Leonean, not one Sierra Leonean in Burkina Faso. The only people that were in Burkina Faso were the Gambians and Dr. Mani had come to Burkina Faso not along with the Liberian group.”
Mr. Taylor also denied Witness Camara’s testimony that when United Liberation Movement for Democracy (ULIMO-K) rebels attacked the Liberian town of Gbangha in 1994, Mr. Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) called on reinforcements from RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. “To reinforce Gbangha with the RUF means they (RUF) will have to fight through the entire ULIMO line right upto Gbangha,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor also said that by the time ULIMO-K rebels attacked Gbangha, the NPFL no longer had a relationship with the RUF. “We have had our day with the RUF and it ended in 1992,” he said.
In his testimony in February, Witness Camara claimed that he was a training instructor for the NPFL at the Gbartala training base in Liberia and that under his command, the NPFL recruited and trained young children who were under the age of 15 years. Mr. Taylor told the judges today that “that was a blatant lie and there will be witnesses to prove that it is a lie.”
Explaining the role that children played in NPFL territory, Mr. Taylor said “people that were under the age of 18 were not trained as military personnel in the NPFL. They were family members associated with soldiers that helped to take care of them in their home, cooking for them, but they were not recruits of the NPFL. They did not have any command structure. If you have a bigger brother, you follow him, you were with him, but there was no fixed command structure of any group calling themselves SBU[Small Boys Unit].”
The prosecution has alleged that Mr. Taylor maintained a relationship with RUF rebels throughout the conflicts in both Sierra Leone and Liberia and that together with the RUF’s leader, Foday Sankoh, he developed a common plan to wage war against the people and government of Sierra Leone. Prosecution witnesses have testified to the pattern of operations in Mr. Taylor’s NPFL such as the use of child soldiers called SBUs, and have related the same patterns in the RUF where the child combatants were also called SBUs. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations.
Mr. Taylor also reinforced in court today the role he played in getting the RUF and the government of Sierra Leone to sign a peace agreement in 1999. In his testimony today, Mr. Taylor told the judges that after the signing of the peace agreement in Togo, he was able to convince RUF leader Foday Sankoh to travel and be based in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown. He said he proposed that his government will assign a special ambassador to assist in the implementation of the peace agreement between the RUF and the Sierra Leone government as well as the establishment of a hot-line to facilitate communication between himself and then Sierra Leonean president Ahbed Tejan Kabbah. He said that while the hot-line was not established, he was still able to “establish regular communication” with President Kabbah.
Mr. Taylor also revealed today that western countries were not very supportive of the peace agreement between the RUF and the Sierra Leone government. In his testimony today, he said that “members of the international community, especially the western countries, did not like certain aspects of the agreement and they hinted that they will not support it, for example, the provision granting amnesty to combatants and the positions that were given to the RUF in the government.” Mr. Taylor said he informed the United Nations Secretary General that any such step by western countries not to support the peace agreement will undermine the peace efforts in the country.
Mr. Taylor’s testimony continues tomorrow.