Neither Charles Taylor, nor any member of his Liberian rebel group, ever visited the base where Sierra Leonean rebel forces underwent training in Liberia, a defense witness for Mr. Taylor told Special Court for Sierra Leone judges today in The Hague.
Former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, is on trial for allegedly supporting Sierra Leonean rebels during the country’s brutal 11-year war as they raped, mutilated and killed civilians while benefitting from the country’s diamond wealth. Prosecutors say that Mr. Taylor gave the rebel group weapons in exchange for blood diamonds, and either controlled, or jointly planned, the rebels’ atrocities in his neighboring country. Mr. Taylor has denied all 11 charges against him of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international law. His defense case started in July 2009 with Mr. Taylor on the stand, and since February 2010, witnesses have come forward in his defense.
Martin Flomo George, a Liberian national, today told the court about how the Sierra Leonean rebel group – the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) — underwent training at Camp Nama in Liberia before they invaded Sierra Leone in 1991. Mr. George – who said he was a member of the RUF throughout Sierra Leone’s war between 1991-2002 – said he was approached by RUF leader, Foday Sankoh, to join the rebel group in 1991. Based in the Liberian town of Gbarngha at the time, Mr. George said he willingly joined the group once Mr. Sankoh told him that a liberation struggle in Sierra Leone needed the witness’ help. (Gbarngha served as the headquarter town for Mr. Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) and Camp Nama was within NPFL controlled territory within this time in the early 1990s).
Mr. George said he was taken to the RUF training base at Camp Nama, where he met other Liberians and Sierra Leoneans also undergoing revolutionary training. This did not mean that Mr. Taylor and his NPFL rebels supported the RUF rebels during their training at Camp Nama, however, Mr. George said. Instead, the portion of Camp Nama where RUF rebels were trained — called “Crab Hole” — was cut off from other groups there. Mr. George said he never saw Mr. Taylor at Camp Nama, corroborating a previous defense witness’ testimony about “Crab Hole”.
As Mr. Taylor’s defense counsel, Morris Anyah, asked him whether he ever saw or heard of Mr. Taylor being at Camp Nama, the witness said that “I never saw him there, not a day did I see him on that base.”
“When I was training at Camp Nama under the RUF, I never heard about Charles Taylor in Camp Nama,” the witness added.
Prosecutors have alleged – backed up by prosecution witnesses – that Mr. Taylor provided support for the RUF during their training at Camp Nama and that RUF leader, Foday Sankoh, held meetings with Mr. Taylor and other NPFL commanders at the camp during this period. Mr. Taylor has dismissed this assertion as false. In his testimony today, the Mr. George sided with Mr. Taylor’s account.
Asked by Mr. Anyah whether he ever saw or heard of Mr. Sankoh meeting with any NPFL commanders while at Camp Nama, Mr. George said no.
“I never heard about that and I never saw it,” the witness said.
In his testimony yesterday, however, Mr. George said that while the RUF underwent training at a particular section of Camp Nama — which he said was a big military barracks — an NPFL artillery unit was also undergoing training at another section of the camp. He did not say that the two groups interacted with each other.
Also in his testimony today, Mr. George said that when RUF rebels completed their training at Camp Nama in 1991, they did not have any weapons to attack Sierra Leone. He said that as they advanced to enter Sierra Leone, they came across a bundle of arms and ammunition at the Liberian border with Sierra Leone. These weapons, the witness said, were used to attack Sierra Leone. He said they did not know who put the weapons there.
The witness drew a harsh response from the presiding judge of the Chamber, Justice Sebutinde, for the manner in which he responded to her question asking him to clarify his statement about the weapons found by the RUF.
“What should I say? Should I say they were wasting there?” the witness responded in a harsh tone.
This response did not go down well with Justice Sebutinde.
“Mr. Witness, I don’t like your attitude when you are answering questions,” Justice Sebutinde said.
“Nobody in this court was there. You are here to give evidence and to help us understand what went on for the purposes of a very serious trial. Now kindly cooperate with your lawyer in answering and making yourself understood. If you use words that we can’t understand, we ask for your clarification. I don’t know with whom you are losing your temper,” Justice Sebutine told the witness.
“Check your attitude and be courteous to everybody, as we are trying to be courteous to you,” she added.
The witness apologized and thanked the Justice Sebutinde for her caution.
Mr. George’s testimony continues tomorrow.