A defense witness for Charles Taylor today described a former radio operator for Sierra Leonean rebel forces who testified against the former Liberian president as a “desperate” and starving young man who sought his help in Liberia during the country’s civil conflict.
Joseph Menson Dehmie, a former radio operator for Mr. Taylor’s Liberian rebel group, today sought to refute prosecution evidence that his forces gave support to Sierra Leonean rebels after they had retreated from attacks by their government’s troops.
The prosecution witness — Dauda Aruna Fornie, commonly called DAF – testified in 2008 that about 300 of Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels were then taken to a Liberian rebel base at Bomi Hills in Liberia where they underwent advanced military training. Mr. Fornie also said that at Bomi Hills, the RUF rebels performed domestic chores for Mr. Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) commanders. According to Mr. Fornie, he was in the RUF group assigned to the NPFL Signal Unit at Bomi Hills and was trained in the use of communication or radio equipment by the NPFL Signal Regional Commander named “Joseph Dehmie”– the witness who is presently testifying in Mr. Taylor’s defense.
Mr. Dehmie today expressed his surprise to find out that Mr. Fornie was an RUF fighter. According to Mr. Dehmie, he only knew Mr. Fornie after the young man had approached him at Bomi Hills as a hungry man who was desperate to get food.
“I am only hearing this today,” Mr. Dehmie said.
“Up to the time he was with me, he did not tell me that he was a soldier. That is surprising to me. I am only hearing this now.”
Mr. Dehmie told the court that when Mr. Fornie approached him for help at Bomi Hills, “he [Fornie] was so desperate. He was tiny — even a Somalian refugee was better than him.”
Mr. Dehmie said that Mr. Fornie stayed with him for up to five months during which time he (Fornie) helped him with domestic issues.
Asked by defense counsel for Mr. Taylor, Morris Anyah, whether he ever recruited Mr. Fornie as a radio operator or let him into the NPFL radio room at Bomi Hills, Mr. Dehmie said that never happened.
“Non-radio operators were not allowed into the radio room. He used to be inside the building but never in the radio room. He did not use the radio, I did not recruit DAF,” he said.
“He was a cook, he was a tiny little boy who was seeking assistance. He was never a radio operator,” Mr. Dehmie added.
Mr. Dehmie listened to portions of Mr. Fornie’s 2008 testimony in which the former RUF radio operator said that while in Liberia, the RUF worked in collaboration with NPFL commanders including One Man One, Yegbeh Degbon, Dickson Walo and others to launch attacks against enemy forces in Liberian frontlines. According to Mr. Fornie, NPFL rebels referred to RUF rebels as “Sankoh recruits,” in reference to the name of RUF leader Foday Sankoh. Mr. Fornie said they were all based at Bomi Hills, the same place where the present witness Mr. Dehmie stayed at that time. Again, Mr. Dehmie expressed surprise at this account.
“I am dumbfounded because I did not know that this boy was even a soldier. We did not talk anything military. He was not my colleague, he was just like my little brother and I took care of him,” Mr. Dehmie said.
Also in his testimony today, Mr. Dehmie told the court that a rival rebel faction, the United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO), “was formed from the sister republic of Sierra Leone.” He explained that some NPFL commanders including General Degbon, Anthony Menkunagbe, One Man One and Oliver Varney connived with ULIMO forces to overthrow Mr. Taylor as leader of the NPFL. These men, the witness said, were tried and executed.
“To every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. They were executed,” the witness said.
Mr. Dehmie is the twelfth witness to have testified for Mr. Taylor, who is responding to charges that he provided support to RUF rebels in Sierra Leone during the country’s 11 years civil conflict. Mr. Taylor has denied the charges against him.
Mr. Dehmie’s testimony continues tomorrow.