Prosecutors today said that Charles Taylor lied under oath when he said that Sierra Leone’s rebel leader only visited him in Liberia for a few days, but did not stay there for months during the civil conflicts in both Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Fayia Musa, a Sierra Leonean rebel insider, today told the Special Court for Sierra Leone that at some point during his country’s brutal 11-year conflict, rebel leader Foday Sankoh spent about six months with Mr. Taylor at his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) headquarters at Gbarngha in Liberia.
Prosecutors said this account by Mr. Musa, former spokesperson for the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group, contradicted Mr. Taylor’s own account. The former Liberian president, during his own testimony, had denied suggestions that Mr. Sankoh used to stay at NPFL headquarters at Gbarngha. Mr. Sankoh was only a visitor there for a few days, Mr. Taylor had told the court. According to Mr. Musa, this was not the case.
“You see Mr. Witness, I believe you told us the truth — I believe Charles Taylor lied under oath,” prosecution counsel, Nicholas Koumjian, said to the witness.
“He [Mr. Taylor] was asked “did Foday Sankoh base with you in Gbarngha?” He [Mr. Taylor] answered, “well again, Foday Sankoh was not based with me in Gbarngha.” He was asked “please explain what you mean when you say he was not based with you in Gbarngha.” And he answered, “well to be based means to be permanent from my understanding, so it was not permanent. If your question is, he visited me in Gbarngha, yes, but he was not based with me in Gbarngha, no,” Mr. Koumjian said, recounting to the witness the earlier exchange with Mr. Taylor.
Mr. Koumjian asserted that Mr. Taylor lied in his testimony when he said that Mr. Sankoh would only spend a few days with him at Gbarngha and then he would return to Sierra Leone.
“So we see here, Mr. Taylor lies and says that Foday Sankoh would only stay two or three days. You told us that Fooday Sankoh and Mr. Tengbeh went to Gbarngha for six months before they returned to Sierra Leone, isn’t that correct?” Mr. Koumjian asked the witness.
In his response, the witness said that “it is correct.”
“They [Mr. Sankoh and Mr. Tengbeh] were there up until the end of the Top 40.”
The operation code named Top 40, according to Mr. Taylor and several witnesses, marked the end of collaboration between Mr. Taylor’s NPFL and the RUF in 1992. Prosecutors, however, allege that the relationship between Mr. Taylor and the RUF continued even after 1992 and that the former Liberian president continued to provide support to the rebel forces in Sierra Leone. With Mr. Taylor’s support and advice, prosecutors say that the RUF committed widespread atrocities against the civilian population of Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor has dismissed the allegations as false.
Earlier in court today, Mr. Taylor’s defense counsel Courtenay Griffiths informed the judges that the defense will be incapacitated to present witnesses next week due to the problems faced by airlines in flying in and out of Europe caused by volcano ash spreading across the continent’s airspace. With only one more witness after Mr. Musa presently in The Hague, it may be difficult to transport witnesses from West Africa to Europe unless there is a significant change with flight availability, he said.
“As a consequence of the disruption to airline traffic into Europe, we will have problems progressing the trial next week because currently there is only one further witness in The Hague, and we know not how long the current travel difficulties will persist or whether indeed flights will be coming in from West Africa at anytime soon,” Mr. Griffiths told the judges.
Presiding judge, Justice Julia Sebutinde, conferred with her colleagues and then responded that the problems affecting airline traffic into and out of Europe is disappearing gradually. If progress is made with airline traffic by next week, then the challenge envisaged will not affect the trial, she said.
As Mr. Musa concluded his testimony today, Mr. Taylor’s ninth defense witness took the witness stand. The witness, a Liberian national, Martin Flomo George, told the court that he fought for the RUF from the start of the conflict in Sierra Leone in 1991 to its conclusion in 2002.
Mr. Taylor has previously said that Liberian nationals could have fought in Sierra Leone as part of the RUF but that he did not send them there. He said that he had no links with the Liberians who fought in Sierra Leone. Liberian nationals now testifying as former members of the RUF seek to corroborate Mr. Taylor’s account that they were indeed part of the RUF in Sierra Leone but with no links to Mr. Taylor.
Mr. Flomo’s testimony continues tomorrow.