The Liberian nationals who became part of the Sierra Leone rebel group that waged an 11-year rebel war in the West African country were neither sent to Sierra Leone by Mr. Taylor nor did they communicate with the former Liberian president while they were there, and the renegade rebel group Black Ghadaffa from Liberia, which later found its way into Sierra Leone, was not created by Mr. Taylor, said two of the former Liberian president’s defense witnesses who testified this week in The Hague.
The two witnesses, Mr. Martin Flomo George and Mr. Karnah Edward Mineh, both Liberian nationals gave accounts of their experiences as members of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group in Sierra Leone and the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebel group respectively.
On Monday, Mr. George, who became a member of the RUF in Liberia and went on to become Brigade Commander for the rebel group in Sierra Leone, told the court that while there were several Liberian nationals in the RUF, claims that it was Mr. Taylor who sent them to join the group and fight in Sierra Leone are false. The witness said that while they were in Sierra Leone as part of the RUF, the Liberians never had any contact or communication with Mr. Taylor.
“No. We never had communication with Charles Taylor,” Mr. George told the court.
Prosecutors have alleged that members of Mr. Taylor’s NPFL rebel group fought alongside RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. These Liberian rebels, prosecutors have alleged, were sent to Sierra Leone by Mr. Taylor as part of his involvement in a joint criminal enterprise with RUF rebel forces. Prosecution witnesses, including RUF radio operators, have testified before Special Court to Sierra Leone judges that the RUF commanders, such as Isaac Mongor, used to communicate with Mr. Taylor and his troops in Liberia. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations, saying that he never sent Liberian nationals to fight in Sierra Leone, that those Liberian nationals who went to Sierra Leone did not go there on his command, and that they did not have any communication with him.
Mr. George, a Liberian national himself and former member of the RUF on Monday corroborated Mr. Taylor’s account. Responding to a question from Mr. Taylor’s defense counsel, Morris Anyah, as to whether Liberian nationals, especially Mr. Mongor, a former prosecution witness, Liberian national and senior commander in the RUF, communicated with Mr. Taylor, Mr. George told the court:
“While we were in the jungle, I never saw Isaac talking to Charles Taylor on the radio or even giving him message about any situation concerning the RUF war, never, no.”
Prosecutors have alleged that RUF commanders used to communicate regularly with Mr. Taylor’s Director of Special Security Services (SSS), Benjamin Yeaten. Mr. Anyah sought to know whether such communication did take place with any other commanders in Liberia apart from Mr. Taylor. The witness said this was never the case.
“At the time we were in the northern jungle, I never saw him [Isaac Mongor] communicating with Charles Taylor or any other Charles Taylor’s commanders for that matter,” Mr. George said.
Mr. Mongor, in his April 2008 testimony as a prosecution witness, said that he was first a member of Mr. Taylor’s NPFL. In the NPFL, he said he served as a bodyguard before he was asked by Mr. Taylor to join RUF leader, Foday Sankoh, and help train RUF fighters for the invasion of Sierra Leone. Mr. Mongor, who later became a senior RUF commander, said the RUF leadership used to communicate with Mr. Taylor. Mr. Taylor, in his own testimony, denied these accounts. As one of the Liberians who fought as a member of the RUF, Mr. George on Monday sought to corroborate Mr. Taylor’s account.
On Tuesday, Mr. George questioned accounts that RUF leader, Mr. Sankoh, recruited most of his fighters from 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.
On Wednesday, when court resumed for the day’s proceedings, Mr. Taylor was conspiciously absent. The former Liberian president’s defense counsel, Mr. Anyah, explained to the judges that Dutch security personel had handcuffed Mr. Taylor and kept him waiting in a vehicle for 15 minutes. This irritated Mr. Taylor and he refused to go to court on Wednesday. Mr. Anyah called this action by the Dutch security personnel unnecessary and disrespectful.
After investigating the circumstances surrounding the incident, the judges concluded otherwise.
Presiding judge, Justice Julia Sebutinde, said that the actions of the Dutch security personnel were not disrepectful to Mr. Taylor as was presented by his defense counsel. The learned judge said that Mr. Taylor had only been made to wait for those minutes because the Dutch security personnel wanted to transport him to the court alongside the other detainees.
“Now in our view, unanimously, we do not think that what happened this morning — whereby the authorities requested Mr. Taylor to wait for some 15 minutes, and I don’t know whether he actually waited for 15 minutes or less – that that was necessarily an unreasonable request, given the circumstance that there was that one team ready to bring a number of accused persons, ” Justice Sebutinde said.
On Thursday, former NPFL commander Mr. Mineh described as false, allegations that Mr. Taylor established the Black Ghadaffa group in Liberia and later sent them to provide help to the RUF in Sierra Leone.
Prosecutors have claimed that it was Mr. Taylor who created the Black Ghadafa group and that he sent them to provide support to RUF rebels. Mr. Taylor has told the court that Black Ghadafa was established by commanders in his rebel group who were bent on overthrowing him as NPFL leader. The former president added that members of Black Ghadafa were arrested and investigated and after they confessed that they had established the group to overthrow Mr. Taylor, they were subsequently executed. These NPFL commanders included Oliver Varnie, General Dibong, Anthony Menkunagbe, Timothy Moriba, and One-Man One. Prosecutors say that Mr. Taylor executed these men because he did not want to entertain any opposition to his reign as NPFL leader.
Mr. Mineh on Thursday corroborated the former Liberian president’s evidence. According to Mr. Mineh, Mr. Taylor deployed him to the Cape Mount region during the war in Liberia. There, he said he joined Mr. Varnie, General Dibong, and others to fight against United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO) rebels, who were attacking the NPFL from Sierra Leone. The witness explained that while he was the commander at Cape Mount, Mr. Varnie and others started conniving against him and supporting ULIMO rebels to fight against the NPFL.
“Oliver Varnie, Dibong and One-Man-One conspired against me,” Mr. Mineh said.
“All supplies sent to me were given to the enemy. Dibong will send all supplies to the enemy ULIMO and ULIMO began to attack us,” he added.
Asked by defense counsel for Mr. Taylor, Mr. Silas Chikera, to explain why the NPFL commanders had given NPFL supplies to ULIMO, the witness explained that “they joined ULIMO and they formed a unit to fight against us.”
“They called the unit Black Ghadafa,” he said.
Explaining that Black Ghadafa and ULIMO were united, Mr. Mineh said that “these people turned against us. They conspired to fight against Mr. Taylor.”
“They were arrested. When they investigated them, they confessed” that they were planning to overthrow Mr. Taylor, according to Mr. Mineh.
Mr. Mineh also told the court that the men who formed Black Ghadafa had asked him to join them and when he refused, they threatened to kill him.
Witnesses have given different accounts about the group called the Black Ghadafa. While some have said that they saw members of the group in the RUF headquarter town of Buedu (Kailahun District, eastern Sierra Leone), other witnesses have said that the group joined the Sierra Leone army and helped fight against the RUF. During Mr. Taylor’s testimony, Mr. Taylor’s lead defense counsel, Courtenay Griffiths, read a portion of the statement made by former Sierra Leonean president, Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, before the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In Mr. Kabbah’s statement, he said that the Black Ghadafa was a group formed in Liberia which provided support to the Sierra Leonean army and that many of the group’s members found their way in the country’s security forces.
Mr. Taylor is responding to allegations that he provided support to RUF rebels in Sierra Leone through the supply of arms and ammunition in return for diamonds, and the giving of military advice to the RUF. 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.