The trial for former Liberian president Charles Taylor took an early adjournment today when immediately after the mid-morning break, one of the judges reportedly fell ill. Prior to the court’s adjournment, the accused former Liberian president denied allegations that he sent his rebel fighters to attack neighbouring Guinea, saying that he gave approval to “hot pursuit missions” which entered into the neighboring country.
When the trial resumed today after the court’s mid-morning break, Presiding Judge, Justice Richard Lussick informed all the parties that the court will take an early adjournment because one of the three judges, Justice Julia Sebutinde had fallen ill. Since it is important that Justice Sebutinde hears all the evidence in the trial, the other two judges would not proceed in her absence, Justice Lussick said. The court adjourned for the day.
Prior to the court’s adjournment, 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 Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (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 today 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 knowleged. 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.
Mr. Taylor is alleged to have had control over NPFL rebels in Liberia as well as RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. According to prosecutors, Mr. Taylor was in a suprior position over RUF rebels and he knew or had reason to know that they were committing attrocities in Sierra Leone but failed to prevent the commission of those attrocities or failed to punish them when he knew that such attrocities had been committed. He is accused of bearing the greatest responsibility for the crimes committed by the RUF rebels in Sierra Leone.
Prosecutors put it to the former Liberian president today that because the RUF saw how his NPFL rebels conducted themselves in Liberia, the commission of “crimes in Sierra Leone was a continuation of business as usual.”
“The whole of Liberia will tell you that Mr. Taylor did not tolerate crimes. That’s nonsense,” Mr. Taylor said.
“Prosecutions were just a cover,” Ms. Hollis told Mr. Taylor when the accused former president insisted that he ensured that all perpetrators in the NPFL were prosecuted and punished.
“You cannot have it both ways,” Mr. Taylor responded. “On the one had, Taylor encouraged impunity by not punishing for crimes, and when he did, it was a cover up. You can’t have it both ways,” he added.
Mr. Taylor’s cross-examination continues tomorrow.