The relationship between Sierra Leonean rebels and Liberian rebels loyal to Charles Taylor ended in a bloody battle in 1992, a defense witness for the former Liberian president told Special Court for Sierra Leone judges today in The Hague.
Fayia Musa, a Sierra Leonean national and former spokesperson for the country’s rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), today explained the circumstances surrounding the fallout between the RUF and Mr. Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebel group in 1992. Mr. Taylor had previously told the court that when his NPFL forces came under attack from United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO) rebels with support from the Sierra Leone government, he established ties with RUF rebels in Sierra Leone because they both had a common enemy. The NPFL wanted to fight ULIMO in Sierra Leone so as to prevent fighting them in Liberia, Mr. Taylor had said. After the fallout between his NPFL rebels and the RUF in Sierra Leone, Mr. Taylor said he severed his relationship with the RUF and its leader, Foday Sankoh. Defense witnesses, as well as prosecution witnesses, have corroborated the account that there was a fallout between the two rebel groups in 1992 in operations called Top 20, Top 40 and Top Final. The point of disagreement has been the duration of the fallout: Mr. Taylor insists it was permanent — prosecutors say that it was very temporary.
Today, Mr. Musa testified that the two groups had a permanent fall-out in 1992. He explained that the fall-out involved a bloody battle between the two groups which ended in the deaths of several fighters on both sides. He said that the cordial relationship which existed between Mr. Taylor and Mr. Sankoh was completely terminated after this battle. Mr. Sankoh, the witness said, vowed never to go to Liberia again.
“Foday Sankoh vowed never to go to Liberia again, according to him because he felt disappointed by everything he told us. According to him, he had relied a lot on Charles Taylor for support, but that support did not come, then Liberians were coming again to disturb us,” Mr. Musa told the court today.
“So he said he’ll never, never go to Liberia again. When he told us we should use our own resources to run the campaign, he is appealing to all the Sierra Leoneans on the ground to make sure that we, we abide by that,” he said.
Mr. Musa also denied allegations that the RUF intended to terrorize the civilian population of Sierra Leone (One of the counts in the indictment against Mr. Taylor is that he actively supported or failed to stop the RUF’s activities designed to terrorize the civilian population of Sierra Leone. Three RUF commanders have already been convicted on this charge in a previous trial by Special Court for Sierra Leone.) Mr. Taylor has denied helping the RUF in any way. The former president’s defense counsel, Courtenay Griffiths, today sought to get the witness’s response to allegations of the RUF terrorizing the civilian population.
“Now, was it the intention of the RUF to terrorize the civilian population of Sierra Leone,” Mr. Griffiths asked the witness.
As the witness laughed, Mr. Griffiths added that “that’s the allegation in this case. It is suggested that the RUF is a terrorist organization, so help me, was that your intention?”
“It was not the intention of the RUF at all to terrorize any Sierra Leonean,” Mr. Musa responded. “The intention of the RUF, we who were in it, the intention of the RUF was to create a liberation, total liberation from poverty, illiteracy and disease, as it is in other parts of the world.”
“The management of the war itself may have been poor, a lot of mistakes were made, but that was not the intention of the RUF,” he added.
Mr. Musa also told the court that at the early stages of the war in Sierra Leone, the RUF contacted the United States and Great Britain to help bring the conflict to a peaceful conclusion. He refuted suggestions that the RUF was opposed to the two western powers.
Mr. Musa’s testimony continues tomorrow.