Defense witnesses for Charles Taylor this week told Special Court for Sierra Leone judges that the former Liberian president did not supply arms and ammunition to Sierra Leonean rebels, did not provide assistance in training the rebels in Liberia, and he did not help them plan the invasion of Sierra Leone in 1991.
Mr. Taylor, who is responding to charges that he supported the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group in Sierra Leone, has had witnesses from both Liberia and Sierra Leone testify on his behalf. Mr. Taylor’s witnesses have been refuting prosecution evidence against him, telling judges that the former president did not provide assistance to RUF rebels as alleged by prosecutors. This week, two former members of the RUF, one from Sierra Leone and a second from Liberia, testified on Mr. Taylor’s behalf.
On Monday, a Sierra Leonean who served as an arms repairer for the RUF, Charles Ngebeh, told the judges that the former Liberian president provided support to Sierra Leonean rebel forces but that such support ceased in 1991 when Mr. Taylor withdrew his Liberian fighters from Sierra Leone. Mr. Ngebeh testified that at the initial stages of the war in Sierra Leone, Mr. Taylor did provide support to RUF rebels through the supply of manpower and materials, such as food, medicine, arms, and ammunition. The witness said that such support, however, ceased when RUF rebels and Mr. Taylor’s Liberian fighters in Sierra Leone clashed in what has been called “Top 20, Top 40 and Top Final.”
Prosecution witnesses testified during the presentation of the prosecution case that in 1991, members of Mr. Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), who were fighting alongside rebel forces in Sierra Leone, had a conflict with their RUF counterparts that led to the Liberian fighters leaving Sierra Leone and returning to Liberia. In Mr. Taylor’s testimony as a witness in his own defense, the former president addressed the same issue, telling the judges that he did have Liberian fighters helping RUF rebels along the Liberia-Sierra Leone border but that such fighters were withdrawn when they had clashes with the RUF. Mr. Taylor also said that within this period, he did help the RUF with arms and ammunition because they were fighting a common enemy in the United Liberian Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO), who were attacking the NPFL with support from the Government of Sierra Leone.
Mr. Ngebeh on Monday corroborated Mr. Taylor’s account when he said that “at the initial stage of the war in 1991, RUF used to have assistance from Mr. Taylor. After that infighting, Mr. Taylor withdrew all his men and the weapons they had.”
The witness explained that the two sources of ammunition for the RUF at that time were supplied from Mr. Taylor and those obtained after attacking enemy forces.
“There are only two sources that we used to get ammunition from: Mr. Taylor and attacking our enemies,” he said.
He explained that after Mr. Taylor withdrew his support from the RUF in 1991, RUF leader Foday Sankoh returned from Liberia and said “he’ll never step his foot on Gbangha [NPFL headquarters at that time] because Taylor had sent an order to arrest him.”
“Minus Taylor, plus Taylor, I will fight my war,” the witness quoted Mr. Sankoh as having said at that time.
On Tuesday, Mr. Ngebeh reiterated his position that Mr. Taylor did not supply arms and ammunition to the RUF, telling the judges that ULIMO, a rival group to Mr. Taylor’s NPFL, supplied the RUF with arms and ammunition. He explained that sometime in 1996, the RUF Battle Front Commander Sam Bockarie established a relationship with ULIMO that led to the Liberian rebel group supplying arms and ammunition to the RUF. He added that the RUF also bought arms and ammunition from Guinean soldiers.
The witness also affirmed on Tuesday that RUF rebels forced civilians to get involved in mining activities and that those who refused were either beaten or killed. Prosecutors have alleged that RUF rebels committed crimes of forced labor by forcing civilians to mine diamonds for them. These diamonds, prosecutors say, were transported to Mr. Taylor in Liberia in return for arms and ammunition. In his testimony on Tuesday, the witness explained how the rebel forces engaged in forced labor.
“It was the soldiers who would go to look out for the civilians. The AFRC and the RUF, they would go and search for the civilians,” the witness said.
Asked what would be done to the civilians if they did not do what the rebels wanted, the witness explained that “if you are unlucky, they will kill you. If you are lucky, they’ll beat you up. That’s the advice. They’ll take you by force. That was the options that they gave.”
As defense lawyers concluded the direct-examination of Mr. Ngebeh on Wednesday, prosecution counsel, Ms. Brenda Hollis, requested that the cross-examination of the witness be suspended because certain things to which Mr. Ngebeh testified had not been contained in his statement disclosed to prosecutors. She told the judges that the information provided by defense lawyers was insufficient for the cross-examination of the witness. Ms. Hollis further added that there were inconsistencies in the witness’s oral testimony in court and his written statement made to defense investigators. Mr. Taylor defense lawyer Terry Munyard objected to the prosecution’s request for the suspension of the witness’s cross-examination, telling the judges that the prosecution had not given enough reasons to delay the cross-examination of the witness.
After hearing arguments on both sides and conferring with her colleagues, presiding judge, Justice Julia Sebutinde, issued a ruling that while agreeing with the prosecution that the witness’s cross-examination should be suspended, his written statement disclosed by defense lawyers did not necessarily contradict his testimony in court.
“The Trial Chamber is of the view that although the summary is inadequate, what little there is of it is not necessarily inconsistent with the witness’s testimony given in chief. The Trial Chamber therefore finds that the proper remedy for the prosecution complaints is to allow the prosecution some time to prepare its cross-examination of the witness in respect of those parts of his testimony that were not contained in his summary,” Justice Sebutinde said.
On Thursday, Mr. Taylor’s seventh witness, a Liberian national who was a member of the RUF, John Vincent, told the court in his direct-examination that RUF rebels were trained in Liberia but not with assistance from Mr. Taylor. Mr. Vincent testified that he was part of the original fighters trained as members of the RUF in Liberia before the group attacked Sierra Leone in March 1991. Prosecutors have alleged that RUF rebels were trained at Camp Nama military training base in Liberia, with assistance from Mr. Taylor, whose NPFL rebel group had already waged a war in Liberia in 1989. Witnesses have testified to RUF fighters undergoing training at Camp Nama under instructions from commanders belonging to Mr. Taylor’s NPFL. The former president has denied helping in training RUF rebels in Liberia, telling the judges during his testimony as a witness in his own defense that he had no knowledge of RUF rebels being trained at Camp Nama.
On Thursday, Mr. Vincent, testifying in defense of Mr. Taylor told the court that he was part of the RUF fighters who underwent training at Camp Nama but that such training was not done with assistance from Mr. Taylor. He told the court that RUF leader Mr. Sankoh and some other people gave them military training at a particular section in Camp Nama called “Crab Hole.” The witness said that during the entire period of his training at Camp Nama, he never saw Mr. Taylor there.
In response to a question as to whether he ever heard “the name Charles Taylor mentioned” at Camp Nama, the witness said that “at the time Bong Mines was captured, that was the first time I started hearing about the name Charles Taylor, and throughout Liberia at that time now, we used to hear the name, but there was nothing that was made mention of about Charles Taylor at Crab Hole, no,”
The witness said when the RUF invaded Sierra Leone, he was appointed as the Training Commandant for the entire rebel group.
Also in his testimony on Thursday, the witness refuted claims by prosecutors that the RUF recruited and used children for combat purposes during Sierra Leone’s civil conflict. Witnesses have testified to the use of child soldiers in both the RUF and the NPFL, and prosecutors have asserted that Mr. Taylor encouraged the use of children for combat purposes in both rebel groups. One of the charges in the indictment against Mr. Taylor is the recruitment and use of child soldiers in the RUF. In his testimony on Thursday, while maintaining that the NPFL had no relationship with the RUF, the witness, Mr. Vincent, told the court that the RUF did indeed train children under the age of 17 years but added that such training was not for the purpose of being used for combat.
“What I mean here is that if I am here alone, maybe one of my family members has escaped and am going for training and I have my younger brother, I can’t leave him behind, he will be with me, we’ll train, and when am going for my assignment, he’ll stay at home. That was why those young ones were trained, for their own safety as well so in case of any danger, they’ll be able to get to their people but we were not using them as fighters,” the witness explained.
On Friday, Mr. Vincent testified that former RUF commander and prosecution witness Isaac Mongor’s testimony against Mr. Taylor that the former Liberian president helped the RUF to invade Sierra Leone in March 1991, is untrue. Mr. Mongor, in his 2008 testimony told the judges that shortly before the invasion of Sierra Leone in March 1991, Mr. Taylor and RUF leader Mr. Sankoh met in the Liberian town of Voinjama, near the country’s border with Sierra Leone. Mr. Vincent on Friday told the judges that this account by Mr. Mongor is untrue.
“Had Mr. Taylor being in Voinjama and when Mr. Sankoh went for us, the last group, he would have told us. And when we got there, if at all he was there, I was going to see him too, but that did not happen,” the witness said.
Mr. Vincent also disputed Mr. Mongor’s 2008 testimony that Special Forces from the NPFL moved from the NPFL base in Gbarnga, Bong County in Liberia to assist the RUF in invading Sierra Leone. According to Mr. Mongor, the NPFL fighters took with them a truck load of arms and ammunition for the invasion of Sierra Leone.
Asked whether he saw NPFL fighters providing assistance to the RUF or transporting arms and ammunition for the invasion of Sierra Leone, the witness said “no, not to my knowledge.”
The witness further refuted claims by Mr. Mongor that he (Mongor) was a training instructor for the RUF while they were preparing to invade Sierra Leone in 1991.
“Isaac Mongor did not train anybody. I continue to say that Isaac Mongor was a demonstrator,” the witness said.
Mr. Vincent will continue his direct-examination next week, after which, he will be cross-examined by prosecutors.
Mr. Taylor’s trial resumes on Tuesday.