Claims that Charles Taylor secretly smuggled arms and ammunitions into Liberia in 1997 without informing the West African peacekeepers were dismissed as “nonsense” today by the former Liberian president in his trial in The Hague.
During cross-examination, prosecutors had raised allegations of Mr. Taylor’s involvement in arms smuggling in Liberia, pointing to a book written by Nigerian General Victor Malu — the head of West African peacekeeping forces in Liberia during Mr. Taylor’s presidency. In his book, General Malu reportedly claimed that in 1997, Mr. Taylor secretly smuggled arms and ammunition from South Africa through the Free Port of Monrovia without informing Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) peacekeepers. The former ECOMOG commander said that before his forces were alerted, Mr. Taylor had removed the arms and ammunition from the Free Port. As Mr. Taylor continued his re-examination today, Mr. Taylor dismissed the allegations as nonsense.
“Since ECOMOG arrived in Liberia in 1990, they maintained full control of the Free Port of Monrovia. So to say at this particular time that arms are being brought into the Free Port, the Navy of ECOMOG is based there,” Mr. Taylor told the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
“Even through my presidency, ECOMOG was deployed fully in Monrovia and its environs by this time. So this is total nonsense that someone could have brought a shipload of arms into the Free Port, the Navy of Nigeria is running this port, it’s totally, totally crazy here, it’s not possible.”
Asked whether General Malu had confronted him with intelligence that shiploads of arms and ammunition had been brought to Liberia through the Free Port, Mr. Taylor responded that “never, so help me God, never, Malu never discussed this with me.”
Prosecutors have alleged that even with an ECOMOG presence in Liberia and with the West African country under a United Nations arms embargo, Mr. Taylor smuggled arms and ammunition into the country. These arms, prosecutors say, were then sent to Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in Sierra Leone, a rebel group that Mr. Taylor is alleged to have provided support to during the 11-years conflict in Sierra Leone.
While maintaining that his country did not have arms to supply rebel forces in Sierra Leone, Mr. Taylor has admitted that at some point in his presidency, he secretly bought arms and ammunition solely for the purpose of fighting rebel forces which were threatening to unseat his government in Liberia.
Also in his re-examination today, the former Liberian president dismissed General Malu’s accounts that during Mr. Taylor’s rebel days, he had acquired about 20 armored personnel carriers, four tanks, tons of artillery and anti-aircraft rifles for use in ‘Operation Octopus’ — a 1992 operation by Mr. Taylor’s rebel forces to capture the Liberian capital, Monrovia.
Mr. Taylor maintained that during the entire period of the Liberian conflict, his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebel group never had access to armored personnel carriers, tanks and anti-aircraft rifles. He explained that Operation Octopus was a military operation which was aimed at capturing Monrovia and bringing the Liberian conflict to an end.
Mr. Taylor, who has previously testified that he had several disagreements with General Malu, today told the court that when he was elected as president of Liberia in 1997, he called for the replacement of the Nigerian General. Referring to General Malu as “abrasive” and “rude,” Mr. Taylor added that ECOMOG soldiers were not loved by the Liberian people.
“Liberian citizens complained seriously about the treatment that ECOMOG meted out to ordinary citizens. At check points, they would beat the people, they would take away their items, I mean, they were wild,” Mr Taylor said. “And I was the person that always talked about the sovereign rights of Liberians in their country, unruly behaviors on the part of ECOMOG troops — Liberians were really, really angry,” he said.
In his re-examination, Mr. Taylor has been seeking to clarify certain issues that were raised during his cross-examination by the prosecution. His defense counsel, Courtenay Griffiths today informed the court that Mr. Taylor’s re-examination will likely be concluded by tomorrow. If that happens, both prosecution and defense will tender several documents to be admitted in evidence and then Mr. Taylor’s witnesses will start testifying in his defense immediately after.
Mr. Taylor’s re-examination continues tomorrow.