Charles Taylor’s defense witness today said her efforts to help Sierra Leonean rebel fighters during the country’s 11-year war were motivated purely by loyalty to one man: rebel leader Foday Sankoh – not the former Liberian president Charles Taylor, as prosecutors allege.
Isatu Kallon, a Sierra Leonean business woman who helped Revolutionary United Front (RUF) leader Foday Sankoh in recruiting fighters to invade Sierra Leone in 1991, has spent several days on the witness stand, telling the Special Court for Sierra Leone about her closeness to Mr. Sankoh and her role in helping his fighters.
Today, lead prosecutor Brenda Hollis challenged the witness: she was not only loyal to Mr. Sankoh, but to Mr. Taylor and his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebel group as well. The witness denied Ms. Hollis’s claims, insisting that her loyalty only lay with Mr. Sankoh and the RUF.
“You were loyal to Charles Taylor, right?” Ms. Hollis challenged the witness today.
“No. I never even spoke with him,” Mrs. Kallon responded.
As Ms. Hollis highlighted the witness’s activities in travelling to different places seeking materials and support for the RUF, she asked the witness: “so your actions were motivated by loyalty right?”
“Loyalty to who?” the witness asked Ms. Hollis.
“To both Foday Sankoh and Charles Taylor,” Ms. Hollis said.
“I was not loyal to two people. I was only loyal to Foday Sankoh and the RUF fighters,” Mrs. Kallon responded.
“The activities you have described in this court served the interests of both Foday Sankoh and Charles Taylor,” Mrs. Hollis shot back.
“I did not know whether it was between them. I only know that I served Foday Sankoh and the RUF,” the witness said.
She denied suggestions that both Mr. Taylor and Mr. Sankoh had made her aware of their friendship.
“You were aware that Charles Taylor and Foday Sankoh had known each other for a long time,” Ms. Hollis put to the witness.
“I don’t know,” the witness said.
The witness had previously told the court that she had passed through NPFL checkpoints to take food to RUF fighters who were being trained at Camp Naama in Liberia — a place where NPFL fighters also underwent training. The witness also described how she fled with NPFL fighters when rival rebels attacked the Liberian town of Gbarngha, where she had been based, selling goods in the local market. Today, Ms. Hollis argued that the witness’ freedom to move around NPFL-controlled territories was a product of her loyalty to both Mr. Sankoh and Mr. Taylor.
“The freedom you had to travel in NPFL territory, all the freedom of movement you had, was because you were loyal to both Charles Taylor and Foday Sankoh,” Ms. Hollis put to the witness.
“No, I was not benefitting from two leaders,” Mrs. Kallon said.
When put to her that the RUF and NPFL were mostly two sides of the same organization, the witness said that “no, that is not how it happened.”
One of the allegations against Mr. Taylor is that he is responsible for the crime of forced labor committed by RUF forces in Sierra Leone. Prosecutors say that Mr. Taylor knew or had reason to know that RUF fighters in Sierra Leone were forcing civilians to mine diamonds and work on farms — and that he continued to provide support to them through the supply of arms and ammunition, and in planning operations. Today, Mrs. Kallon denied seeing civilians being forced to mine diamonds — but admitted that civilians were forced to work on farms by the RUF.
“You know that civilians were being forced to produce food, right?” Ms. Hollis asked the witness.
“Yes,” the witness replied.
The witness agreed that civilians were made to harvest the produce from the farms and were forced to carry the produce to the river side in Guinea were they were sold. She agreed that the civilians did this work because they did not have any choice.
The witness denied prosecution claims that when she did business with West African peacekeepers based in Liberia that she had actually bought materials, such as fuel, for both the RUF and the NPFL. She also dismissed Ms. Hollis’s assertions that she obtained intelligence information from the West African peacekeepers and passed it on to Mr. Taylor.
The witness insisted that she was never “supporting Charles Taylor.”
Mrs. Kallon concluded her testimony today, insisting that she had no idea of any collaboration between the RUF and the NPFL.
The protected witness DCT-190, whose cross-examination was put on hold due to a request by prosecutors, is expected to resume his testimony tomorrow.