Charles Taylor did nor order Sierra Leonean rebel forces to attack the nation’s capital Freetown and to free the group’s leader from jail in 1999, he said during his trial in The Hague today. Mr. Taylor also dismissed as “lies” the testimony of one of his former commanders that he was the “boss” of both Sierra Leonean and Liberian rebel groups during both countries’ conflicts.
The former Liberian president was responding to claims by a former insider of Sierra Leone’s rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), that the group had received orders and supplies of arms and ammunition from Mr. Taylor in 1998 to attack Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown and free RUF leader Foday Sankoh from jail there.
“That I sent people to Freetown to free Sankoh is a blatant lie,” Mr. Taylor said.
The protected witness, whose testimony Mr. Taylor sought to discredit, told judges in October 2008 that RUF commanders started discussing plans to attack Freetown in 1998. He said that while Mr. Sankoh was in jail, the group’s interim leader, Sam Bockarie, did not listen to members of the RUF War Council, of which the witness himself was a member. Rather, Mr. Bockarie traveled to Liberia to seek advice from Mr. Taylor and returned from Liberia with direct instructions from Mr. Taylor that the RUF should attack Freetown, the witness said.
“The instruction to attack Freetown originated from Taylor” and it was a “planned invasion,” the witness had told the Special Court for Sierra Leone in 2008.
In an effort to distance himself from any such plans to attack Freetown, Mr. Taylor told the judges today that “I sure did not plan it. I don’t know if Sankoh did, but I did not. I did not plan any invasion of Freetown, never.”
The protected witness had also said that the weapons used in the Freetown attack were obtained from Burkina Faso and deposited in Liberia before they were eventually taken to the RUF in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor said that he had no knowledge of such shipment of weapons into Liberia.
“I have nothing to do with this so I really don’t know what this man is talking about,” the accused former president said.
“Bockarie went to Burkina Faso in 1998 with the acquiescence of the international community. If he came with arms and ammunition from Burkina Faso via Liberia, I did not know but if somebody came with such huge amount of arms and ammunition like that into Liberia, I would have known,” Mr. Taylor explained further.
Mr. Taylor also denied the witness’ claims that between 1997 and 1999, Mr. Taylor facilitated three major shipments of arms and ammunition for use by RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. The witness said that diamonds were given to Mr. Taylor in return for the shipments. According to the witness, the RUF gave Mr. Taylor, “through his special envoy to the RUF Ibrahim Bah” about 90 carats of diamonds as payment for the first shipment of weapons. As payment for the remaining two shipments, Mr. Bockarie personally delivered nine plastics of diamonds to Mr. Taylor.
“This is a number of complicated lies in this thing. It is so terrible. It’s a lie, no diamonds were given to me,” Mr. Taylor asserted.
Mr. Taylor is accused by the Special Court’s prosecution team of controlling the RUF rebels, including by planning attacks and supplying weapons for the RUF’s activities in Sierra Leone during the country’s conflict. Mr. Taylor is accused of receiving the country’s diamonds from RUF rebels as payment for the supply of weapons. By his actions or inactions, the prosecution alleges that Mr. Taylor is responsible for the crimes committed by rebel forces in Sierra Leone.
Also in his testimony today, Mr. Taylor dismissed as “lies” the evidence of “Zig Zag” Marzah, a former member of Mr. Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), who in his 2008 testimony told the judges that Mr. Taylor was the overall boss of both the RUF and NPFL. Marzah said that the RUF and NPFL were one and the same group. He said that when NPFL rebels crossed the Sierra Leonean border, they became part of the RUF and when RUF rebels moved to the Liberian side of the border, they became part of the NPFL. They all looked up to Mr. Taylor for instructions, Mr. Marzah had said.
“It is a proofing lie. RUF and NPFL were never the same,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Marzah also told the judges in his 2008 testimony that as Mr. Taylor’s Chief of Operations, he was in charge of Mr. Taylor’s operations in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast. (Mr. Taylor is also accused of sending RUF rebels to attack Guinea and Ivory Coast at different times). Mr. Taylor dismissed the witness’ claims.
“I swear to God. Taylor will have a man who cannot read or write and he is going to put him in charge of three countries? This man is sick. It is not true,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor also denied several other claims by the witness, including claims that Mr. Marzah took diamonds mined by the RUF to Mr. Taylor on several occassions; that Mr. Taylor gave him arms and ammunition from his White Flower residence to take to the RUF in Sierra Leone; that Mr. Taylor had a pregnant woman buried at the back of his White Flower residence; and that Mr. Taylor gave him orders to execute many people including civilians.
“This boy is just one of the liars they brought for this case and he has really messed it up,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor’s testimony continues tomorrow.