Charles Taylor helped three major Sierra Leonean rebel commanders to reconcile their differences but such reconciliation was not for purposes of a military takeover of the country, the accused former Liberian president told Special Court for Sierra Leone judges today in The Hague.
Mr. Taylor was responding to questions during his cross-examination today on his decision to host Revolutionary United Front (RUF) leader Foday Sankoh, his deputy Sam Bockarie and Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) leader Johnny Paul Koroma in a meeting in Liberia. Mr. Taylor explained that after the signing of the peace agreement between the government of Sierra Leone and the RUF in 1999, there were certain differences between the RUF and the AFRC which needed to be resolved in order to make the peace agreement successful. Prosecution counsel Mr. Nocholas Koumjian today suggested to Mr. Taylor that he wanted to help the rebel commanders reconcile their differences in order to restore a military regime in Sierra Leone.
“Did you invite Foday Sankoh, Sam Bockarie and Johnny Paul Koroma to Liberia for reconciliation on how to return to military power in Sierra Leone?” Mr. Koumjian asked Mr. Taylor.
Mr. Taylor responded with a resounding “No.”
The AFRC which was formed by members of the Sierra Leone Army (SLA) overthrew the elected government of Sierra Leone in 1997 and formed a merger with the RUF. The AFRC/RUF junta regime ruled Sierra Leone until 1998 when they were forcefully removed from the country’s capital by West African peacekeepers. In 1999, the government signed a peace agreement with the rebel forces in the Togolese capital, Lome.
Mr. Taylor agreed with Mr. Koumjian today that when the three rebel commanders met in Liberia, the government of Sierra Leone was not represented there.
Why not invite the government of Sierra Leone?” Mr. Koumjain asked.
“Because the government of Sierra Leone was not part of the issues between them. There was bad blood between the SLAs and the RUF and their purpose was to sort out that bad blood,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor said that Sierra Leonean president Ahmed Tejan Kabbah “was kept informed” of the meeting between the rebel commanders in Liberia.
Mr. Taylor insisted that the meeting with the rebel commanders in Liberia was necessary to make the peace agreement between the Sierra Leone government and the rebels successful. He explained that at the signing of the peace agreement in Togo, a decision was taken to make RUF leader Mr. Sankoh vice president of Sierra Leone but nothing was said about what position should be given to AFRC leader Mr. Koroma. It was at the meeting in Liberia, of which President Kabbah was kept informed, that a decision was taken to make Mr. Koroma the Chairman for the Commission for Consolidation of Peace (CCP), Mr. Taylor said. Mr. Taylor said that he kept other West African leaders informed of these developments.
“I did not act alone,” Mr. Taylor said.
“I was on the phone with with Obasanjo [Nigerian president], Eyadema [Togolese president] and Kabbah [Sierra Leonean president]. I was not a lone ranger in this. Johnny Paul Koroma needed assurance and i assured him,” he added. According to the former Liberian president, it was after this reconciliatory meeting in Liberia that the RUF and AFRC leaders decided to travel together to Sierra Leone. They were received in Sierra Leone by president Kabbah, Mr. Taylor said.
On Mr. Koumjian’s suggestion that “that was not the purpose of the meeting” in Liberia, Mr. Taylor responded that “if Kabbah as the legitimate president of Sierra Leone did not want them in Sierra Leone, he would not have allowed them.”
Mr. Taylor explained that Nigerian president “Obasanjo sent them a plane, he sent me 225,000 USD for them and i sent them to Sierra Leone.”
Right through his testimony as a witness in his defense, Mr. Taylor has insisted that his involvement with Sierra Leonean rebels was purely for peaceful purposes in the West African country. He has explained that upon his election as president of Liberia, he became a member of the Committee of Five, a body set up by West African leaders with a mandate of facilitating a peaceful end to the conflict in Sierra Leone. Prosecutors on the otherhand have alleged that Mr. Taylor was involved in a joint criminal enterprise with the RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. The rebels, prosecutors say, used to transport Sierra Leone’s blood diamonds to Mr. Taylor in Liberia and that in return, the Liberian president gave them supplies of arms and ammunition for use in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor has said that he did not have arms and ammunition to fight rebel forces in his own country and therefore could not have supplied any materials to the RUF. As he continues his testimony, the former president has challenged prosecutors to present evidence that he used Sierra Leone’s diamonds to enrich himself and open bank accounts in various countries as alleged. From July 14 to November 10, Mr. Taylor testified in direct-examination as a witness in his own defense. As his cross-examination commenced, prosecutors sought to present “fresh evidence” to impeach Mr. Taylor’s testimony but the accussed former president’s defense objected, calling it a “trial by ambush.” The judges will use Monday to determine whether such “fresh evidence” should be used by the prosecution. There will therefore be not court hearings on Monday.
Mr. Taylor’s cross-examination continues on Tuesday.