Charles Taylor ordered the execution of commanders in his Liberian rebel group because they sold arms to Sierra Leonean rebel forces, and he ensured that rebel fighters who committed crimes against civilians were punished, a defense witness for the former president told Special Court for Sierra Leone judges in The Hague today.
Mr. Timan Edward Zammy, a former commander in Mr. Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebel group today sought to explain how Mr. Taylor frowned at any perceived NPFL association with Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in Sierra Leone. According to the witness, Mr. Taylor ordered the execution of two NPFL commanders because they had sold arms and ammunition to the RUF. Mr. Taylor himself in his testimony as a witness in his own defense told the court that he had disciplined certain NPFL commanders because he found out they wanted to provide assistance to the RUF, an action which he was opposed to. Today, Mr. Zammy corroborated the former president’s testimony on this incident. Mr. Zammy pointed out that one of the NPFL commanders who had sold arms and ammunition to the RUF and therefore executed was Anthony Munkunagbe. Prosecutors have alleged that Mr. Taylor ordered the execution of Mr. Menkunagbe and a few other NPFL commanders because he thought they were opposed to his leadership of the NPFL. Mr. Taylor on his part has said that the men were executed because they committed acts of treason against the NPFL by forming a group called Black Ghadaffa and planning to associate themselves with the RUF.
To justify Mr. Menkunagbe’s execution, Mr. Zammy told the court that Mr. Menkunagbe himself had admitted to him that he had sold arms and ammunition to the RUF.
“He [Menkunagbe] sent me a hundred and fifty bags of rice and some pigs feet, about five barrels, three motorbikes, and some food stuffs. And he told me that those are your own proceeds from the deal. He said but don’t worry, I sold the arms, not you. We are fighting a rebel war,” the witness explained.
The witness also dispelled claims that the NPFL targetted people belonging to the Madingo and Krahn tribes during the conflict in Liberia. Defense lawyer for Mr. Taylor, Silas Chikera, sought to know whether this was the case.
“The prosecution alleges that when you were fighting in Liberia in 1990, you were targeting Madingos and Krahns, especially civilians. Did you target Madingo and Krahn civilians?” Mr. Chikera asked the witness.
In his response, the witness said “no.”
Mr. Chikera also pointed out portions of a previous transcript where prosecutors had asked Mr. Taylor during his cross-examination about the NPFL rebels targeting Madingos and Krahns at check points in Liberia.
Again, the witness said, “No. No one attacked Madingo or Krahn people from the rear at check points.”
The witness explained that when NPFL recruits were trained, they were given strict warnings on how to treat civilians. He said that the NPFL recruits were told that “no rape, no civilian target, no one should kill civilian targets, except those who shoot at you.”
He added that the recruits were, however, told that if a person in civilian clothes shot at them, they were at liberty to treat such person as an enemy combatant.
“If a person fires at you even if in civilian clothing, you should consider that person as enemy.” the witness said.
This was because “some people will take off their uniforms and wear civilian clothes and so if a civilian shoots at you, he should be considered an enemy,” he added.
Some members of the NPFL, including senior commanders, were executed because they went against the advise given to them not to kill civilians, the witness told the court.
“Some fighters who violated were executed at the full level of implementation,” the witness said.
Such execution, the witness said, would be carried out only after the accused person had been investigated and tried by a Court Martial consituted by the NPFL hierarchy.
“When you violate, you’ll be arrested, investigated, and court martialed. And if you are found guilty, you’ll be executed,” he said.
Prosecutors have suggested that Mr. Taylor led a rebel group that committed crimes against civilians with impunity. Mr. Taylor, they claim, did not prevent the commission of these crimes and when he knew that they had been committed, he did not take steps to punish his fighters who were the perpetrators. Prosecutors say that RUF rebels in Sierra Leone-a group that Mr. Taylor allegedly had control over and provided support for during Sierra Leone’s 11 year conflict-conducted themselves just like the NPFL did in Liberia. They say that Mr. Taylor, while supporting the RUF, gave a blind eye to the crimes they committed. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations. It is in this light that Mr. Taylor’s witness, Mr. Zammy, has testified that Mr. Taylor did not only take steps to prevent the commission of these crimes by telling his fighters to treat civilians well, but also that when he knew that such crimes had been committed, he took steps to punish the violators.
Mr. Zammy’s testimony continues tomorrow.