Charles Taylor did not send Gambian fighters to help in the March 1991 rebel attack on Sierra Leone, nor did he use children in combat while he served as leader of rebel forces in Liberia, according to Mr. Taylor’s first defense witness today.
Yanks Smythe, a Gambian national who Mr. Taylor appointed as Liberian ambassador to Libya and Tunisia, today refuted claims by a previous prosecution witness that the former Liberian president had sent two Gambian fighters to assist neighboring rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), in their attack on Sierra Leone in March 1991.
Prosecution witness and fellow Gambian, Suwandi Camara, had told the Special Court for Sierra Leone in 2008 that Mr. Taylor sent two Gambian rebel fighters, Lamine Campaore and Ibrahim Bah to support Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in their attack on Sierra Leone in March 1991.
Asked by Mr. Taylor’s defense lawyer, Morris Anyah, whether he was “aware of Ibrahim Bah and Lamine Campaore being assigned by Charles Taylor to join Foday Sankoh in Sierra Leone in 1991,” the witness responded that “no, I’m not aware of that.”
The witness said that the Gambians stayed exclusively within the areas controlled by Mr. Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebel group.
Talking specifically about Mr. Campoare, the witness told the court that “Lamine never received any assignment out of the NPFL assignment in Gbangha.”
He added that if Mr. Campaore had received any such assignment, he would have know because he (the witness) was the deputy leader of the Gambians in Liberia.
“I would have known because I was the deputy leader so anything that has to do with assignment I am always aware of it,” the witness said.
Asked whether the second Gambian, Mr. Bah, would have gone to Sierra Leone, the witness explained that “Ibrahim Bah was not always stationed in Gbangha. He was in Buchanan. He was asked by the then defense minister, Tom Worweiyu, to be assigned to a company called BMB to provide security for them, deter the soldiers from harassing the members of the company or their properties.”
Mr. Smythe also refuted prosecution allegations that Mr. Taylor and his NPFL recruited children and assigned them into groups called the Small Boys Unit (SBU) and the Small Girls Unit (SGU). Previous prosecution witnesses have testified that children younger than 15 years old were used for combat purposes by the NPFL. Some children served as bodyguards to NPFL commanders while some were used to man check points, witnesses have said. Mr. Smythe said that this was never the case.
“We ourselves, we the commanders created that name because most of the commanders have these orphans with them, some of their families, some people, you know, they go to the front and found this child who has no father no mother, bring him with you and he stays with you, so you can call him a Small Boys Unit. I, you know myself I had about five of them who lived with me up to the time you know we moved to Monrovia…Most of them, their parents were killed, some of them they can’t find their parents. In fact a good example was one of them, I took him with me to Libya and currently he is in Spain,” the witness said.
The witness also responded to the testimony of former Liberian Vice President, Moses Blah, who in 2008 told the court that Mr. Smythe’s appointment by Mr. Taylor as ambassador to Libya and Tunisia was illegal. The witness today disagreed with Mr. Blah.
“It was not illegal, it was legal,” Mr. Smythe said, since ” I became a Liberian citizen in 1998.”
Before he became a member of the NPFL in Liberia, Mr. Smythe said his original name while in The Gambia was Yankubah Samateh.
Mr. Smythe’s testimony continues tomorrow.