Charles Taylor’s 15th defense witness commenced his testimony today, telling the Special Court for Sierra Leone judges that Nigerian led West African peacekeepers mobilized several fighters to attack Mr. Taylor’s forces in Liberia as well as rebel forces in Sierra Leone during the conflicts in the West African region.
The witness, who is a Liberian by birth with Sierra Leonean parents, is testifying with partial protective measures and therefore identified only by Pseudonym Number DCT-190. He told the court that he was a member of one of the rebel factions in Liberia – the United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia, loyal to Roosevelt Johnson (ULIMO-J).
According to the witness, sometime in 1998 when skirmishes broke out between ULIMO-J leader Mr. Johnson and Mr. Taylor, Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) peacekeepers provided ULIMO-J leaders with arms, ammunition, and trucks to attack and overthrow Mr. Taylor’s government in Liberia. The ULIMO-J fighters, the witness said, were transported from Duala to Camp Johnson Road in Monrovia to attack Mr. Taylor’s forces. The witness further stated that the objective of this attack was to attack the Barclay Training Center in Monrovia, secure the safety of the ULIMO-J leader Mr. Johnson, and overthrow Mr. Taylor’s government.
“The objective was to take Barclay Training Center in Monrovia with a view to obtaining arms and ammunition to overthrow Mr. Taylor,” the witness told the court today.
Asked by Mr. Taylor’s defense counsel Courtenay Griffiths whether the mission was successful, the witness told the court that “the mission was a failure, total failure because we were not able to take BTC and the next objective was to escort the leader (Mr. Johnson) to the American embassy.” He said that Mr. Johnson was escorted to the United States embassy.
The witness also told the court that within this period, ECOMOG peacekeepers planned to use ULIMO fighters in an operation code named “Operation Eagle,” which had a stated aim of capturing Mr. Taylor alive in Monrovia. He said that the plan was for ULIMO fighters to wear ECOMOG peacekeeping military uniforms and attack Mr. Taylor’s convoy near the James Spriggs airfield in Monrovia. This mission, the witness said, could not succeed because Mr. Taylor had an effective intelligence network that detected the plan. The witness said he was one of the ULIMO fighters engaged in implementing this mission.
Mr. Taylor in his testimony told the court about ECOMOG’s plans with ULIMO fighters to overthrow him while he was president of Liberia. This witness’s account today corroborated Mr. Taylor’s testimony.
Also today, the witness told the court that in 1997, the government of Sierra Leone and ECOMOG peacekeepers recruited UMILO ex-combatants and transported them in ECOMOG trucks with a mandate to fight against Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) and Revolutionary United Front (RUF) junta forces, who had overthrown the democratically elected government of Sierra Leone in May 1997. He said that the Liberian fighters were fully supported by ECOMOG forces during the attacks against AFRC/RUF forces.
“At Ricks Institute…we were being fed, taken care of by ECOMOG,” the witness told the court.
The witness added that ECOMOG directly provided them with arms and ammunition. Asked by Mr. Griffiths whether they underwent any training, the witness explained that “yes, because they knew we were fighters, so basically what they needed was effective command and control on the ground. That was basically what we trained at Ricks Institute.”
Mr. Taylor, who is on trial for providing support to RUF rebels in Sierra Leone through the supply of arms and ammunition, has told the court that several other players were responsible for the movement of fighting forces between Liberian and Sierra Leone because the region was already a volatile one due to the conflict.
The witness today, in giving the background to the formation of ULIMO, told the court that when Mr. Taylor’s rebel forces attacked Liberia in 1989, Liberians who ran to Sierra Leone later formed the Liberians United Democratic Forces (LUDF). This group, which according to the witness was supported by the government of Sierra Leone, later became ULIMO-J. The aim of this group, the witness said was first to help the government of Sierra Leone in their fight against the RUF and then to attack Mr. Taylor’s forces in Liberia. He said when they eventually entered Liberia, they received support from ECOMOG forces in their fight against Mr. Taylor.
“ECOMOG sent trucks for us and we were collected from Bomi Hills to Monrovia to assist them in Operation Octopus,” the witness said. Operation Octopus was an operation launched by Mr. Taylor’s forces to capture Monrovia and finish the Liberian war.
Mr. Taylor has testified that because of the government of Sierra Leone’s support to ULIMO, he had cause to establish a working relationship with the RUF in Sierra Leone in the early 1990s because they had a common enemy.
“I wanted to fight ULIMO in Sierra Leone in order to prevent fighting them in Liberia,” Mr. Taylor told the court in his previous testimony.
DCT-190’s testimony continues tomorrow.