A defense witness for Charles Taylor today claimed he did not see Liberians among the Sierra Leonean rebel forces which attacked the country in 1991. He also dismissed allegations that Sierra Leonean rebels subjected civilians to forced labor during the country’s 11-year civil war.
Fayia Musa, a former Spokesperson and Agricultural Officer for the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group, today told the Special Court for Sierra Leone that claims that Mr. Taylor’s Liberian fighters were part of the RUF fighters who invaded Kailahun district in eastern Sierra Leone in 1991 are false. His account contradicted that of his fellow defense witness, John Vincent — also a former member of the RUF — who had previously told the court that Liberian nationals constituted a huge percentage of the RUF group which invaded Sierra Leone in 1991.
Prosecution counsel Nicholas Koumjian pointed out to the witness that his account differed from that of Mr. Vincent. Mr. Musa, while still casting doubt on Mr. Vincent’s account, explained that his account was based on his personal contact with the RUF in 1991. (Mr. Musa has previously told the court that he was a teacher in his hometown of Kailahun who joined the rebels voluntarily when they attacked and captured him).
“The reason I have to doubt it [Vincent’s account] is the fact that those who captured me, those who captured us in Kailahun, were not NPFL. The group which met us in Kailahun, they told us they were RUF, they spoke to us in our language in Mende, most of them, some of them spoke to us in Kissi,” Mr. Musa said.
He added that “I cannot really say that Vincent, I cannot tell whether he was lying or not, but the group which met us was RUF.”
Prosecutors have alleged that Mr. Taylor was involved in a joint criminal enterprise with RUF leader Foday Sankoh and that in pursuit of such enterprise, Mr. Taylor provided support to the RUF through the supply of materials and man power to attack Sierra Leone in 1991. Prosecutors say that this support continued throughout the conduct of the war which only ended in 2002. Mr. Taylor, while denying the prosecution allegations has said that he only provided minimal support to the RUF in 1991 when he realized that a rival rebel group, the United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO), was attacking him in Liberia with help from the government of Sierra Leone. He then joined forces with the RUF, who were fighting to dislodge the Sierra Leonean government, as they had a common enemy at that time, Mr. Taylor said. The former president said that his association with the RUF ceased in 1992.
Also in his cross-examination today, Mr. Musa denied allegations that the RUF subjected civilians to forced labor. The charges against Mr. Taylor include forced labor against the civilian population of Sierra Leone by the RUF. Prosecutors say that the RUF subjected civilians to forced labor for mining and farming purposes during the country’s civil war. It is alleged that Mr. Taylor knew of the forced labor but continued to support the RUF. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations.
Mr. Musa, who served as Agricultural Officer of the RUF told the court that civilians were never forced to farm but that they went to the farm willingly as a means of sustaining themselves.
Mr. Koumjian who sought to get more form the witness put to him that “the people that lived under the RUF control, they felt like slaves working for the RUF. That was the common feeling in Kailahun, isn’t that true?”
Mr. Musa disagreed.
“That is not true. I have started by telling you that when all of us were captured, for the sake of the people of Kailahun who were not able to escape, I offered my services to organize them so that they will not starve to death and the reality on the ground was that we had to work in order for us to eat.”
Mr. Musa told the court that as Agricultural Officer and spokesperson for the RUF, he did not take part in military activities. He was not part of the military wing of the rebel group and so cannot say much about the RUF’s military operations, he said.
Mr. Musa’s cross-examination continues tomorrow.