Charles Taylor today denied allegations that he sent rebel forces to attack Ivory Coast as part of any grand plan to destabilize the West African sub-region.
“I had nothing to do with the war in Ivory Coast,” Mr. Taylor told the Special Court for Sierra Leone judges today.
Mr. Taylor was refuting the testimony of a prosecution witness Jabaty Jaward, a former member of Sierra Leone’s rebel group Revolutionary United Front (RUF) who was later recruited into Mr. Taylor’s Anti Terrorist Unit (ATU) in Liberia. In 2008, Mr. Jaward testified that he was part of a team that launched rebel attacks in Ivory Coast under the command of RUF commander Sam Bockarie, with orders from Mr. Taylor. The witness said that the forces were based in the Ivorian town of Seguela, from where they launched attacks against Ivorian forces. He said that prior to his arrival at Seguela, other forces loyal to Mr. Taylor had been in the town fighting under Mr. Bockarie’s command. Mr. Taylor today dismissed the witness’ account as “lies”.
“I don’t know who they are because I did not send anyone from my government to a town called Seguela,” he told the judges.
Mr. Taylor denied ever wanting to attack the Ivorian government of President Laurent Gbagbo, whom he described as a “close friend”.
“In so many ways, I ensured that Laurent Gbagbo became president and I was the first African leader that went there after his election,” he said.
Much of the prosecution’s allegations about the relationship between Mr. Taylor and the RUF have been tied to his closeness with the RUF’s commander, Mr. Bockarie. Witnesses have testified that Mr. Bockarie took orders from Mr. Taylor as rebel commander in Sierra Leone, and that after Mr. Bockarie left Sierra Leone for Liberia in December 1999, Mr. Taylor sent him on military missions in other countries including Ivory Coast. Mr. Taylor has insisted that after Mr. Bockarie left Liberia in 2001, he did not have any further contact with him.
“I had absolutely no contact with Sam Bockarie after he left Liberia in 2001. Once Bockarie left Liberia, I Charles Taylor and my government had nothing to do with him,” he said today in his testimony.
“My God, how does Charles Taylor, in 2000, expel Bockarie?” Mr. Taylor asked. “He is involved in the war in Ivory Coast that starts in early 2000, he is thrown out in late 2000, he goes and he lives in Burkina Faso and I have control over Sam Bockarie in Burkina Faso, I arm him in Burkina Faso, so I am running Burkina Faso, I am running Ivory Coast and I am running Sierra Leone?”
“I mean, how can people be so silly to believe all this nonsense just to make a case?” Mr. Taylor said. “Sam Bockarie has nothing to do with Charles Taylor.”
Mr. Taylor further told the court that it would be “very silly” for anybody to believe that he could be running wars in three countries at the same time.
Mr. Taylor also refuted the testimony of former Liberian commander in the RUF, Isaac Mongor, who in 2008 testified about Mr. Taylor’s alleged relationship with the RUF. Mr. Taylor denied Mr. Mongor’s assertion that during Sierra Leone’s 1996 presidential elections, Mr. Taylor endorsed RUF leader Foday Sankoh’s plans to cut off the arms of civilians so as to prevent them from voting in the elections. Mr. Taylor reiterated an earlier position he has told the court: that after 1992, he had no relationship with Mr. Sankoh and therefore he would not have had such communication with Mr. Sankoh in 1996.
“I had no relationship with Sankoh beyond 1992,” he said.
Mr. Taylor also dismissed as “lies” Mr. Mongor’s claim that he (Taylor) gave RUF commander Mr. Bockarie a plan on how to invade Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown.
“This is a lie out of — I don’t know what to say. This is all blatantly, blatantly a lie,” he said.
Mr. Taylor further denied allegations that when his government came under attack from a rebel leader called Mosquito Spray in 1998/99, he had to call RUF fighters to quell the rebellion. He also denied providing arms shipment for RUF rebels in Sierra Leone and denied ever promoting Mr. Bockarie to the position of General in the RUF, as alleged by the prosecution.
Mr. Taylor has been accused by the prosecution of collaborating jointly with others to take over political and physical control of Sierra Leone in order to exploit its abundant natural resources and to establish a friendly or subordinate government there to facilitate this exploitation. This was, the prosecution has argued, part of a larger strategy that included helping others militarily in their respective revolutions to take over their respective countries. In effecting these strategies, the prosecution has alleged that Mr. Taylor assisted, directed and controlled the RUF as it committed crimes in Sierra Leone in pursuit of these larger aims. Mr. Taylor has denied all the charges against him.
Mr. Taylor’s testimnony continues tomorrow.