The conflict in Sierra Leone was prolonged because of the intransigence of the country’s rebel leader who did not want a peaceful end to the conflict, a defense witness for Charles Taylor told Special Court for Sierra Leone judges today in The Hague.
Fayia Musa, a Sierra Leonean national and former spokesperson for the country’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group today testified that the conflict in Sierra Leone was prolonged because RUF leader Foday Sankoh was stubborn and he did not want peace in the West African Country. This, he said, caused West African leaders to turn their backs on him. Mr. Musa explained that after the RUF signed a peace agreement with the government of Sierra Leone in November 1996 (dubbed the Abidjan Peace Accord), members of the international community prevailed on RUF leader Mr. Sankoh to respect the terms of the peace agreement but he refused. Because of his intransigence, West African leaders — specifically in Ivory Coast and Nigeria — became frustrated with him, the witness said.
In eliciting testimony about who was responsible for the failure of the peace process after the signing of the Abidjan Peace Accord, lead defense counsel, Courtenay Griffiths, asked the witness about the response of West African leaders regarding Mr. Sankoh’s commitment to the peace agreement.
“What was your assessment of the feeling of the president of the Ivory Coast, and the president of Nigeria, Sani Abacha, about Sankoh’s sincerity about the peace accord?” Mr. Griffiths asked.
“In fact that is why the Ivorians decided to abandon him because they had known that, they had known very clearly that he was not prepared to respect the accord at all,” Mr. Musa responded. “As for Abacha, he knew that he [Mr. Sankoh] had embarrassed him. He saw that as an embarrassment because he gave his word to him for support, he saw it as foolishness to have encouraged him and politically dangerous also.”
Prosecutors allege that Mr. Taylor provided support to RUF rebels through the supply of arms and ammunition in return for the country’s blood diamonds. They say Mr. Taylor used his influence over the rebels to convince them not to respect the peace agreements that were signed to bring the conflict in Sierra Leone to an end. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations. Mr. Musa today supported Mr. Taylor’s assertion that this was not the case.
After the signing of the Abidjan Peace Agreement in 1996, Mr. Sankoh travelled to Nigeria where he was arrested and incarcerated. He was only released in 1999. In his absence, the leadership of the RUF was in the hands of Sam Bockarie, alias Mosquito, whom prosecutors say had close ties with Mr. Taylor. It has been suggested that it was Mr. Taylor who influenced the decision to appoint Mr. Bockarie as interim leader of the RUF. Mr. Taylor says this is false.
In his testimony today, Mr. Musa told the court that the change of leadership in the RUF was first effected by the RUF delegation to the Abidjan Peace Accord, of which he was a member, after Mr. Sankoh’s arrest in Nigeria in 1997.
“We felt that at that point that then, there and then that the peace process had collapsed, it was time for us to say goodbye to Foday Sankoh in whatever way. We met and we concluded that he should be stripped of his leadership role in the RUF and that I went to Danane and informed Palmer about it, saying since you were military personnel, we can use you to talk to Mosquito and others on the ground to have change of leadership effected,” Mr. Musa explained.
When the RUF delegation returned to RUF territory in Sierra Leone, they were all arrested on the instructions of Mr. Sankoh. The arrest was effected by Mr. Bockarie. It was alleged that the delegation had received a bribe of 100,000 United States dollars to betray Mr. Sankoh, the witness said. All these issues in the RUF, according to the witness, happened without Mr. Taylor’s involvement.
Mr. Musa’s testimony continues tomorrow.