Stories of Sierra Leone’s rebel leader recruiting his fighters from jail cells under the control of Mr. Taylor’s rebel forces in Liberia are false, a defense witness told the Special Court for Sierra Leone today.
Martin Flomo George, a Liberian national and former Brigade Commander for Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel forces, today questioned accounts that RUF leader, Foday Sankoh, recruited most of his fighters from National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) jails during Liberia’s civil conflict in 1990. Several witnesses have given different accounts about how Mr. Sankoh recruited fighters for the RUF in Liberia. Some have testified that RUF fighters were recruited at NPFL check points, while some were recruited from prisons in NPFL-controlled territory.
According to Mr. George, these accounts are wrong. While some of the witnesses were captured in neighboring Ivory Coast, Mr. George said that no RUF member ever told him that he was captured from an NPFL jail.
“I know how some of these people came to the base, like for Issa Sesay, he was in Abidjan, Yusuf Sillah was in Abidjan, Kaifa Wai was in Abidjan,” Mr George said. “He brought them from Abidjan to join us at the base.”
“But I don’t know about anybody else who was in jail and who was freed by Foday Sankoh to come and join us,” the witness said.
Mr. George’s account, however, conflicts with the account given by another defense witness, John Vincent. Mr. Vincent’s testimony corroborated accounts of previous prosecution witnesses, who spoke of Mr. Sankoh’s recruitment of RUF fighters in Liberia. According to Mr. Vincent, who himself was recruited by the RUF in Liberia, some of the RUF fighters were recruited from NPFL check points and from a jail cell in the Herbel area — a place under the control of Mr. Taylor’s NPFL rebels.
Also in his testimony today, Mr. George refuted prosecution allegations that Mr. Sankoh ordered his rebel forces to amputate the arms of Sierra Leonean civilians in order to stop them from voting in the country’s 1996 general elections. According to several prosecution witnesses, when Sierra Leoneans were preparing to vote in the 1996 presidential and parliamentary elections, Mr. Sankoh was enraged. In order to disrupt the elections, witnesses said, he ordered his troops to cut off the hands of civilians. The slogan for the 1996 election was “the future is in your hands” — according to prosecution witnesses, cutting off those hands was meant to incapacitate civilians from voting. Mr. Taylor knew about this operation and gave it his blessing by providing more support to RUF rebels, prosecutors have alleged. Today, Mr. George dismissed these claims as false, saying that Mr. Sankoh never gave such an order.
“He [Sankoh] never gave that instruction to Morris Kallon or to Boston Flomo. Never,” Mr. George said.
“How would you cut people’s hands, and who would vote for you in future? He never gave that instruction,” he added.
The witness claimed that he was at the meeting where Mr. Sankoh gave instructions to his commanders to stop the elections but not to cut people’s hands.
“I was at that meeting, I was not far off from the meeting. I was right in the meeting. He never gave that instruction,” the witness said.
Prosecutors have alleged that Mr. Taylor supported and gave his approval to operations undertaken by RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. During those operations, the RUF committed heinous crimes including murder, rape and the infliction of terror on the civilian population of Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor bears responsibility for these crimes, prosecutors have alleged. Mr. Taylor has denied the allegations against him.
The cross-examination of Mr. George continues tomorrow.