Sierra Leonean rebel fighters were trained in Liberia but not with assistance from Charles Taylor, a defense witness for the former Liberian president told the Special Court for Sierra Leone today in The Hague.
Mr. Taylor’s seventh defense witness, John Vincent, told the court today that he was part of the original fighters trained as members of the Revolutionary United Front (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 National Patriotic Front of Liberia (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.
Today, 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 Foday Sankoh and some other people gave them military training at a particular section in Camp Nama called “Crab Hole.” Under direct-examination from Mr. Taylor’s defense counsel, Morris Anyah, the witness said that while they underwent training at Camp Nama, they never saw Mr. Taylor there, nor did they hear of him helping the RUF.
“During the entire period of time you were at Crab Hole, did you ever see Charles Taylor there?” Mr. Anyah asked the witness today.
“No, I did not even know him, not a day,” the witness responded.
“During the time you were at Crab Hole, did you ever hear the name Charles Taylor mentioned?” Mr. Anyah asked again.
“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 explained.
The witness further said that during his entire time at Crab Hole, he never heard of Mr. Taylor visiting Camp Nama. 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 today, 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. Today, 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 at Camp Nama in Liberia 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.
Mr. Vincent also refuted claims that RUF rebels amputated the arms and limbs of civilians in Sierra Leone. He explained that amputations in Sierra Leone were started by the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), a group of soldiers in the Sierra Leone army who overthrew the democratically elected government of Sierra Leone in May 1997. The AFRC teamed up with the RUF to establish a government in Sierra Leone but were forcefully removed from power by West African peacekeepers in 1998. According to the witness, a female member of the AFRC, popularly known to date as “Adama cut-hand”, started the amputation of civilians in Sierra Leone. The RUF, he said, did not get involved in amputations.
Mr. Vincent’s testimony continues tomorrow.