Charles Taylor invited Sierra Leonean rebels to visit his rebel headquarters in Liberia in 1995, but not to give them military advice, Mr. Taylor’s defense witness told Special Court for Sierra Leone judges today in The Hague.
Fayia Musa said that in 1995, Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels received an invitation from Mr. Taylor to visit his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) headquarters at Gbarngha in Liberia. Mr. Musa, a former RUF rebel humself, said that the group’s leader Foday Sankoh initially turned down the invitation, but at the behest of several senior RUF commanders, Mr. Sankoh allowed the RUF to visit the former Liberian president. Many RUF commanders, including the witness himself, were enthusiastic about the visit, Mr. Musa said. He said that prior to the visit, the RUF did not know why Mr. Taylor had invited the RUF delegation to Liberia. This raised a question from the Presiding Judge of the Trial Chamber, Justice Julia Sebutinde, about why the rebel forces were enthusiastic about visiting Mr. Taylor.
“You didn’t even know the reason why Taylor had invited you. Why were you bending over backwards to go against the will of your leader to visit someone that hadn’t stated the purpose?” Justice Sebutinde asked the witness.
“Well, we knew that he would not invite us into security problem at all. We also knew that he was his friend,” Mr. Musa responded.
Prosecution counsel, Nicholas Koumjian, sought to know what the RUF hoped to achieve from the visit.
“What did you hope to gain out of going to Gbarngha?” Mr. Koumjian asked.
“We did not know what we were going to get. First of all, we never knew Charles Taylor before. So one of the reasons why I wanted to go there was to see him, for the first time in my life,” the witness said.
“Secondly, I wanted to see what actually he called us for, come what may,” he added.
Asked by Mr. Koumjian whether they were “hoping for military support” from Mr. Taylor, the witness said “No, we were not hoping for military support at all.”
“In fact, if I knew that it was for military support, I would not go,” Mr. Musa said.
Mr. Musa explained that when they visited Liberia, Mr. Taylor took the RUF delegation to the Ghanaian capital, Accra, for sight-seeing.
This account by Mr. Musa sits in tension with other accounts given by Mr. Taylor and defense witnesses that after the fall-out between the RUF and Mr. Taylor’s own rebel group, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) in 1992, Mr. Taylor no longer had any contacts with the RUF. It will be left with the judges to determine the weight to attach to any account given by specific witnesses.
Also in his cross-examination today, Mr. Musa told the court that reports that the RUF held civilians as hostages are false. He said that all civilians who stayed in RUF-controlled territory did so willingly because of reports that suspected rebels or RUF associates were being killed in Freetown and Guinea.
“The civilians decided to stay, they were not held hostage by the RUF. They were held hostage by the fear of being killed either in Guinea or in Freetown.” Mr. Musa said.
“I am not defending the RUF. A lot of things went wrong but that was the reality on the ground there. They stayed there on their own,” he added.
Mr. Musa denied prosecution suggestions that the civilians were not free to leave RUF territ0ry.
Mr. Musa, a Sierra Leonean national, served as spokesperson and Agricultural Officer for the RUF during the country’s 11 years conflict. His cross-examination continues tomorrow.