In an effort to bolster Charles Taylor’s defense argument that he was a peacemaker who wanted the best for the Liberia people, today’s witness said Mr. Taylor strove to liberate the people of Nimba County in Liberia after they had been persecuted by then Liberian president Samuel K. Doe.
Today’s witness — Teman Edward Zammy, a Liberian national formerly of the Armed Forces of Liberia – focused on issues that precipitated the Liberian civil war in 1989. He discussed how former Liberian president Doe allegedly massacred over 300 people, including children from Gio and Mano ethnic groups, after the infamous “Nimba Raid” of 1983.
The Nimba Raid involved unknown gunmen, allegedly from the Gio ethnic clan, who attacked Yekepa, a lucrative mining town in Nimba County. During the raid, the gunmen reportedly attacked the residence of Charles Julu, a member of the Krahn ethnic group who was at the time commander of the Plant Protection Department at the Liberian-American Mining Company called LAMCO. Mr. Julu’s children were reportedly killed in the said Nimba raid.
In response, the President Doe and his Krahn countrymen in the Armed Forces of Liberia attacked the citizens of Nimba County, killing hundreds of people, including children who were perceived to be members of the Gio and Mano ethnic groups, Mr. Zammy told the Special Court for Sierra Leone today.
“They killed one of the kingsman who was the only geologist from the Nimbanian side that was working with the company-one D.K Onselly. He was a Gio man,” Mr. Zammy said.
“And they arrested so many others. They arrested a lot of people along with 300 Nimba children, from seven years down to babies. They brought them to town and they took them to Sheffling. They killed them and dumped them in a hole.”
Mr. Taylor’s one time friend and former Commanding General of the Liberian Armed Forces, Thomas Quiwonkpa, staged a failed coup against then president Doe two years later, in 1985 (only days after Mr. Taylor’s own mysterious escape from a US prison). After this coup, former president Doe set up a death squad which selectively rounded up and executed citizens of Nimba County in the Liberian armed forces.
Mr. Zammy told the court that the people of Nimba County were highly vulnerable when Mr. Taylor went to Liberia to rescue them in 1989. He explained that along with 168 men from Nimba County, Mr. Zammy was recruited and taken to Libya for military training, where Mr. Taylor promised them that he would liberate Nimba County and give freedom to its citizens.
“He told us, ‘Gentlemen, I have heard your cries, I have heard the cries of Nimba County, my wife is from Nimba County, Quiwonkpa was my friend from Nimba County, Quiwonkpa never listened to my advice. That was why he took untrained people to Liberia to Doe,” the witness quoted Mr. Taylor as saying to them in Libya.
“From today, I am your leader, you call me Mr. Charles G. Taylor, I am your brother-in-law. I will lead you to Liberia to make a change,” the witness further recalled Mr. Taylor telling the group in Libya.
As Mr. Taylor invaded Liberia with his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebels in 1989, he received huge support and many recruits from Nimba County, Mr. Zammy said. They saw Mr. Taylor as the man who liberated them, the witness told the court.
Testimony today was not directly related to the core allegations against Mr. Taylor for his alleged role in crimes committed by Sierra Leonean rebels during his neighboring country’s brutal 11-year civil war. The testimony does, however, link in with Mr. Taylor’s broader defense argument that he was a man of peace who wanted the best for Liberia and for his fellow Sierra Leoneans, and not a war monger who benefitted from the two countries’ material wealth through terrorizing civilians and supporting rebel crimes.
Mr. Zammy’s testimony continues tomorrow.