Charles Taylor today admitted 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. Nicholas Koumjian, stepping in for the indisposed lead prosecutor, Ms. Brenda Hollis, who fell ill yesterday and could not recover in time to attend court today, asked Mr. Taylor about Revolutionary United Front (RUF) commander Sam 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.”
Asked whether the presence of his protocol officer in such a meeting will mean him knowing what was discussed in the meeting, Mr. Taylor said that “I was not spying on my friend.”
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 today, 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. He has dismissed the charges as a scheme by western countries, specifically Britain and the United States to bring him down. From July 14 to November 10, 2009, Mr. Taylor testified in direct-examination as a witness in his own defense. He is currently being cross-examined by the prosecution.
Mr. Taylor’s cross-examination continues tomorrow.