Charles Taylor this week reiterated a familiar position that he has maintained right through his testimony as a witness in his own defense–that he was a peace mediator and that he did not help Sierra Leonean rebel commanders to plan a military take-over of Sierra Leone. The former Liberia president also told Special Court for Sierra Leone judges that his fighters did not enter neighboring Guinea to attack the Guinean government but rather went there on missions of “hot-pursuit” after rebel forces fighting to unseat his Liberian government ran into Guinea.
On Thursday, the accused former Liberian president, answering questions under cross-examination by prosecutors told the court that in 1999, he hosted Revolutionary United Front (RUF) leader Foday Sankoh, his deputy Sam Bockarie and Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) leader Johnny Paul Koroma for a meeting in Liberia. The meeting, Mr. Taylor said was geared towards reconciling the differences that existed among the rebel commanders. Mr. Taylor explained that after the signing of the 1999 peace agreement between the RUF and the government of Sierra Leone, there was bad blood between the RUF and the AFRC and that such differences needed to be resolved in order to make the peace agreement successful. This, Mr. Taylor said was the reason why he hosted the rebel commanders in Liberia. Prosecution counsel Mr. Nocholas Koumjian, stepping in for the indisposed Ms. Brenda Hollis who fell ill on Tuesday and could not recover to continue Mr. Taylor’s cross-examination 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 on Thursday 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.
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.
On Monday, lead prosecutor Ms. Brenda Hollis accused Mr. Taylor of sending rebel fighters to Guinea in 2001, with an aim of destabilising the country. The attack on Guinea, which according to Ms. Hollis, was code namded “Operation Take No Sides,” was led by National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) commander Mark Guan. Mr. Taylor denied Ms. Hollis’ assertion.
“I know Mark Guan but i do not know of any operation of that name,” Mr. Taylor said.
Mr. Taylor admitted that he approved “hot puruit missions” into Guinea but denied sending fighters to attack the country.
“There were operations that crossed into Guinea but they were hot pursuit operations and I personally ordered those operations,” Mr. Taylor told the court today.
Mr. Taylor has consistently accused former Guinean president Lansana Conte (Late) of supporting Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebels who were threatening to unseat his government in Liberia. Prosecution witnesses have testified that Mr. Taylor used this as justification to send rebel forces, including Sierra’s RUF rebels to attack Guinea. Mr. Taylor has denied giving any orders to rebels to attack Guinea.
In response to allegations by Ms. Hollis that based on Mr. Taylor’s orders, RUF rebels joined NPFL rebels in 2001 to attack Guinea, the former Liberian president said that “was not to my knowlege.”
“I am aware of hot pursuit missions in Guinea. These were standing orders approved by me. There are no operations planned but only of hot pursuit,” he added.
Mr. Taylor also denied allegations that his subordinates in Liberia killed civilians during the country’s conflict as well as when he became president of the country. According to Ms. Hollis, in November 1994, NPFL rebels killed over 100 civilians in Bong County. Ms. Hollis further alleged that after the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO) attack on the NPFL headquarters in Gbangha, NPFL rebels killed civilians who were alleged to be ULIMO supporters. Mr. Taylor denied these allegations, insisting that if he knew of any NPFL rebels killing civialians, they would have been prosecuted.
“Not to my knowlege. I can’t say it did not happen but if someone did, he would have been prosecuted by the NPFL courts. The NPFL was the only organization in Africa and Liberia that had courts,” the former president said.
Ms. Hollis also pointed to allegations that NPFL commander Mark Guan killed 9 civilians in 1998, that in March 2001, 14 civilians were killed by Momoh Jibba, that in July 2000, 170 people were killed at Tubmanburg on orders of Mr. Taylor’s Director of Special Security Service (SSS) Benjamin Yeaten, and that in July 2003, over 70 wounded combatants were massacred on Mr. Yeaten’s orders. Mr. Taylor dismissed these allegations as “totally incorrect.”
Ms. Hollis suggested to Mr. Taylor that his “subordinates” in Sierra Leone understood how Mr. Taylor conducted himself in Liberia and so they saw no reason not to commit the same attrocities in Sierra Leone.
“Sierra Leonean perpetrators understood that was the way you conducted yourself in Liberia,” Ms. Hollis told Mr. Taylor.
“I disagree with that interpretation. No NPFL of mine went to Sierra Leone. Liberians went there but not anyone did i send there except in 1991-92,” Mr. Taylor responded.
Also on Monday, Mr. Taylor dismissed allegations that his rebel forces were involved in canibalism during Liberia’s conflict.
“No subordinates of mine involved in canibalism. I know that some parts of Liberia are involved in canibalism. If anybody had been caught in the act, he’ll first of all be dealt with for how he got somebody killed.” he said.
Mr. Taylor has previously dismissed as allegations of his involvement in canibalism as “racist.” In 2008, a former member of Mr. Taylor’s NPFL Joseph Zig Zag Marzah, testifying as a prosecution witness against Mr. Taylor told the court that he feasted on human beings in the same bowl with Mr. Taylor. Mr. Taylor denied the witness’ claim, saying that prior to seeing the witness in court, he had never known him in Liberia.
On Wednesday, Mr. Taylor told the court that he sent his Chief of Protocol to accompany a Sierra Leonean rebel commander to Burkina Faso in 1998 but denied that he helped him transport arms and ammunition through Liberia for use by rebel forces in Sierra Leone.
Mr. Koumjian asked Mr. Taylor about RUF commander Mr. Bockarie’s 1998 visit to Burkina Faso, during which it is alleged that the rebel commander transported arms and ammunition through Liberia for use by rebel forces in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor admitted that he sent his Chief of Protocol Musa Sesay to act as an interpreter for Mr. Bockarie on his visit to President Blaise Campaore in Burkina Faso. Mr. Taylor agreed with Mr. Koumjian that Mr. Bockarie was under a UN travel ban at the time of the visit but that he approved the rebel commander’s passage through Liberia.
“You sent him on this trip?” Mr. Koumjian asked Mr. Taylor, refering to the former president’s Chief of Protocol Mr. Sesay.
“Surely I did,” Mr. Taylor responded.
“Isn’t there a better use for a Chief of Protocol than to act as an interpreter on a trip?” Mr. Koumjian inquired further.
“That’s a very, very good use from my calculation. Other protocol officers in other countries did the same thing. Whether you are talking about Togo, I remember the Protocol Officer in Togo interpreting between Eyadema and myself, sometimes Musa did. So when you say better, that’s a qualification, that was for me, a reasonable task.” Mr. Taylor responded.
Mr. Taylor agreed with Mr. Koumjian that Burkina Faso probably had their own interpreters but said he was requested to have his Chief of Protocol travel with Mr. Bockarie and he did. Mr. Koumjian suggested to Mr. Taylor that it is the task of the host government to provide interpreters for their visitors.
“Sir, isn’t it the protocol that when you are visiting the president of a country in that country, it’s the host government that provides the interpreter?” Mr. Koumjian asked Mr. Taylor again.
In response, Mr. Taylor said, “that is a protocol, I will agree, but that is not what you will call the only protocol, there had been times when presidents had come to visit me and I will provide the interpreters and some of them will provide their own.”
The prosecution has led evidence pointing to the alleged relationship that existed between Mr. Taylor and RUF commander Mr. Bockarie. Witnesses have testified that the RUF commander used to take orders from Mr. Taylor. It has also been alleged that Mr. Bockarie used to transport Sierra Leone’s blood diamonds to Mr. Taylor, who in return gave the RUF commander loads of arms and ammunition. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations.
Prosecutors have alleged that during Mr. Bockarie’s 1998 trip to Burkina Faso, the RUF commander returned with arms and ammunition through Liberia’s Roberts International Airport (RIA). During cross-examination on Wednesday, Mr. Koumjian pointed out that it would not be possible for a plane full of arms and ammunition to arrive in Liberia for use by RUF rebels in Sierra Leone without the president knowing. Mr. Taylor responded that it was possible to bribe corrupt officials, pointing out how he had also bribed officials in other countries to bring arms and ammunition to Liberia in violation of a UN arms embargo.
“It would not be impossible.” Mr. Taylor responded.
“It is very, very simple. It depends on the quality of corrupt officials involved, it would never get to my attention. I, during tough times transfered arms and ammunitions through countries that did not even know. So that happens all the time. It depends on how much you are willing to pay and who you dealing with,” he added.
Mr. Koumjian accused Mr. Taylor of using his position as an Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) negotiator to support the RUF in pursuit of their war in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor dismissed the allegation as wrong.
Mr. Taylor is responding to charges that he was involved in a joint criminal enterprise with RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor has denied allegations that he supplied arms and ammunition to the rebels in return for Sierra Leone’s blood diamonds and that he helped them plan certain operations during which atrocities such as rape, murder, and amputation of civilian arms were committed. 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. He has dismissed the charges as a scheme by western countries, specifically Britain and the United States to bring him down.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.