Areas controlled by Charles Taylor’s rebel forces were the safest zones for civilians during the Liberian conflict, according to a witness testifying in defense of the former Liberian president today.
Timan Edward Zammy, a former commander in the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebel group, also dismissed as “lies” claims that the NPFL was involved in looting civilian property, killing of civilians, rape and sexual slavery – at least in his area.
“Civilians came to NPFL controlled areas because it was only the NPFL areas that were safe,” Mr. Zammy said.
When put to him that the NPFL committed more crimes that any of the other rebel factions during the Liberian conflict, Mr. Zammy responded that such an assertion was wrong.
“No. NPFL was the best for civilians compared to all other factions because NPFL areas were the only place where they could move freely and were taken care of,” he said.
Prosecution counsel, Katherine Howarth, accused the witness of downplaying heinous crimes such as rape, sexual slavery and the killing of civilians which she said were committed by NPFL rebels, of which the witness was a commander.
Asked specifically whether he saw or heard of NPFL rebels committing these crimes, Mr. Zammy said he neither saw nor heard of such crimes being committed by NPFL rebels.
On allegations of looting, the witness asserted that “no NPFL soldier looted,” and when asked about crimes of rape and sexual slavery, he said that “I did not see it. If I saw it, I would have said it. I did not see it and so my answer is no.”
“I only know that soldiers who were enemies to us were killed and not civilians,” Mr. Zammy said.
When pressed with reports of more abuses allegedly committed by NPFL rebels against the civilian population of Liberia, the witness clarified that his knowledge of NPFL conduct was limited to places which were under his control.
“I am not saying that within the whole of Liberia there was no violation, I am talking about my controlled area. I did not control Grand Jida, I did not control Lofa. The things that happened there I can’t tell. But within my controlled areas is what I am talking about,” he explained.
Ms. Howarth pointed out that the Liberian TRC report documented the killing of over 28,000 civilians and that the said report ranked the NPFL as the worst of the warring factions in Liberia as far as the commission of crimes was concerned. Mr. Zammy dismissed the TRC report as incorrect, insisting that the Chairman of the TRC, Jeremy Verdier, was biased since he had previously accused the NPFL of victimizing him.
“The TRC report is not correct. Members of the TRC, even the chairman said he was victimized by the NPFL. What do you expect him to say about the NPFL?” the witness asked.
“The chairman was supposed to be neutral but if he makes such a comment about the NPFL, what do you expect him to say? The TRC report is not correct,” he insisted.
Mr. Zammy denied allegations that Mr. Taylor and his NPFL commanders used children for combat purposes under the title of Small Boys Unit (SBU). Mr. Taylor himself in his testimony denied these allegations, saying that small boys were made to stay with commanders with whom they were related and that some small boys who had been orphaned by the war were taken by commanders who treated them as their own children. Today, Mr. Zammy corroborated Mr. Taylor’s account, telling the court that he (Zammy) personally rescued some young children who eventually stayed in his household. He said that the children in the SBU sometimes wore military fatigue but this was done “just for fun.”
The defense also called their next witness, a Liberian national and former radio operator and Colonel in the NPFL, Joseph Menson Dehmie. Mr. Dehmie said he was also nicknamed “Bearcat” by his colleagues in the NPFL.
Mr. Dehmie told the court that he joined the NPFL willingly because he wanted to be part of a revolution to remove the government of former Liberian leader Samuel Kayan Doe from power — a government which he accused of oppressing the Liberian people and persecuting the people of the Gio and Manor tribes in the country.
“I became a member of the NPFL purposely to participate in the removal of the dictatorial and oppressive regime of Samuel Kayan Doe,” Mr. Dehmie said.
Mr. Taylor is on trial for allegedly supporting Revolutionary United Front rebels in Sierra Leone. His trial is being conducted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone sitting in The Hague. Mr. Dehmie is the twelfth witness who has testified for Mr. Taylor.
Mr. Dehmie’s testimony continues tomorrow.