A Sierra Leonean witness, who yesterday commenced his testimony in defense of Charles Taylor, has today told the Special Court for Sierra Leone judges that Sierra Leonean rebels received supplies of arms and ammunition not from Mr. Taylor as alleged by prosecutors, but from another rebel group in Liberia.
Prosecutors have alleged that Mr. Taylor, while leader of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) and then as president of Liberia, supplied arms and ammunition to Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in Sierra Leone. These supplies of arms and ammunition, prosecutors allege, were used by the RUF to commit heinous crimes against the civilian population of Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor is on trial as being responsible for the crimes committed by the RUF because according to prosecutors, he knew or had reason to know that the RUF rebels were committing crimes in Sierra Leone but that he failed to prevent the commission of those crimes or that he failed to punish those who committed such crimes. The former Liberian president has denied all the allegations against him.
At his trial in The Hague today, the Sierra Leonean witness and former arms repairer for the RUF, Charles Ngebeh, denied prosecution allegations that Mr. Taylor supplied the RUF with arms and ammunition during the West African country’s conflict. Under direct-examination today, Mr. Ngebeh told the judges that the United Liberation Movement for Democracy (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.
On the types of weapons received by the RUF from ULIMO, Mr. Ngebeh mentioned “AK-67, G3, GMG and RPG.”
Asked by defense counsel for Mr. Taylor, Terry Munyard, what the state or condition of the arms and ammunition received from ULIMO were, the witness explained that “all the materials that we obtained from ULIMO, I repaired them. Most of the arms were rusty, the ammunition too were rusty,they were hidden under the ground, they were hidden under the ground. I would go and clean them up, I service them before we were able to use them. They were rusty,” the witness explained.
The witness added that the RUF also bought arms and ammunition from Guinean soldiers.
The witness also affirmed today 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 today, 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.
“How would they make sure that the civilians did what they wanted,” Mr. Munyard asked the witness.
“They monitored them,” he 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.”
Mr. Ngebeh’s testimony continues tomorrow.