Charles Taylor today accused Britain of transporting arms to Sierra Leone in violation of a United Nations arms embargo on the country, and of using him as a scapegoat by falsely accusing him of responsibility for the flow of arms into the country. Mr. Taylor also denied widespread press and investigative reports that the terrorist group, Al Qaeda, traded diamonds with Sierra Leonean rebels under his supervision in Liberia.
In his testimony today, the accused former Liberian president told the judges that when the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) overthrew the elected government of Sierra Leone in 1997, the country’s ousted president, Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, engaged a British mercenary group, Sandline, to dislodge the illegal AFRC junta regime from the country’s capital Freetown. He explained that the arrangement was facilitated by then British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone Peter Penfold, whom he said already had links with Sandline prior to his assignment to Sierra Leone in March 1997. Sandline, Mr. Taylor said, provided training and arms for Sierra Leonean civil militia, the Kamajors, as well as Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) peacekeepers. Mr. Taylor said that the British navel ship HMS Conway was also in the high seas supplying arms and ammunition to forces loyal to President Kabbah. According to Mr. Taylor, the British — who had drafted a United Nations resolution imposing an arms embargo on Sierra Leone — were the ones violating the sanctions.
“The British government was breaking the United Nations resolution,” Mr. Taylor alleged.
According to Mr. Taylor, when it became clear that the British were the ones violating the UN sanctions on Sierra Leone, they decided to use him as a scapegoat, alleging that he was the one supplying arms to rebel forces in his neighboring country.
“The explanation as to how arms are flowing into Sierra Leone is that they are coming from Liberia. They will bring in these arms and build this lie that arms are coming from Liberia,” he said.
“They were aware but they put the blame on Taylor and I say to the world that how can I supply arms to Sierra Leone when I do not have arms in Liberia?” the former president asked.
Mr. Taylor further alleged that Sandline also had an association with another company which had diamond interest in Sierra Leone, an interest he said that Sandline was keen to protect.
“One of the companies associated with Sandline had diamond interest in Sierra Leone. Sandline is protecting that interest,” he said.
The accused former president reiterated a familiar position that these allegations are part of a conspiracy theory to destroy him.
“All of this is an orchestration for my destruction,” he maintained.
Mr. Taylor also made attempts to discredit international press reports that he was involved in a diamond trade with Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels. Referring to a June 2000 Washington Post and an August 2000 Wall Street Journal reports which both accused him of being involved in a diamond trade with the RUF, Mr. Taylor told the judges today that these were “deliberate attempts to spread disinformation to destroy me.”
Also in his testimony today, Mr. Taylor discussed in detail a report by a Washington Post reporter Douglas Farah, which linked him with the terrorist group Al Qaeda. The report, published in October 2003 and titled “The Role of Conflict Diamonds in Failed States” alleged that Al Qaeda operatives made regular visits to Liberia during which they purchased diamonds from Sierra Leone’s RUF rebels. According to the report, Ibrahim Bah, an alleged agent of Mr. Taylor, had close ties with an Islamic fundamentalist group in Afghanistan. The report further alleged that armed guards associated with Mr. Taylor escorted Al Qaeda operatives into Liberia to purchase conflict diamonds. Mr. Taylor denied the contents of the report, saying that if he had any knowledge that Ibrahim Bah was involved in such actions, he would not have entered Liberia.
“Bah would not have stayed in Liberia if we had known,” he said. The former president told the judges that “there are no armed guards escorting Al Qaeda into Liberia.”
Mr. Taylor also refuted contents of the Mr. Farah’s report which alleged that by the end of 2001, Al Qaeda dispatched two operatives to Liberia offering to buy all diamonds the RUF could produce.
“That is so not true,” Mr. Taylor told the judges.
Mr. Taylor explained that when these allegations were made, his government cooperated with the United States authorities. After a thorough investigation, it was revealed that there were no Al Qaeda operatives in Liberia, he said. He explained that by the time Mr. Farah wrote his report in October 2003, “the matter was already properly investigated and dismissed.”
Mr. Taylor further challenged the contents of a report by Belgian Federal Criminal Investigators, which alleged that Al Qaeda had a relationship with RUF rebels in Sierra Leone, through Liberia, under Mr. Taylor’s supervision.
“It is totally untrue. The report does not contain any factual evidence of the conclusion reached in that statement,” Mr. Taylor responded.
Mr. Taylor said he was not aware of any meetings between RUF and Al Qaeda operatives in the Hotel Boulevard in Monrovia, as alleged in the Belgian report.
Dismissing the report, Mr. Taylor told the judges that “this gives all the signs of a well orchestrated set of lies. How can professional people behave like this? This is a very amateurish report here destined to destroy people.”
Mr. Taylor is responding to allegations that he provided support to RUF rebels in Sierra Leone through the supply of arms and ammunition in return for the country’s diamonds. Mr. Taylor has denied the allegations against him and he is testifying as a witness in his own defense.
Mr. Taylor’s testimony continues on Monday.