Liberian members of Charles Taylor’s rebel group who assisted Sierra Leonean rebels during the West African country’s civil conflict were not sent by the former Liberian president, but did so voluntarily, a defense witness for Mr. Taylor told Special Court for Sierra Leone judges in The Hague today.
The defense witness is testifying with partial protective measures and is therefore only identified by Pseudonym Number DCT-292. The witness, who lived in Liberia before Mr. Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebels invaded the country in 1989, said he later joined Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in Sierra Leone, a rebel group that Mr. Taylor is on trial for allegedly providing support for through supply of arms and ammunition in return for supply of diamonds. Mr. Taylor has denied the allegations against him.
Prosecutors say that when the conflict started in Sierra Leone in 1991, Mr. Taylor provided NPFL personnel who helped RUF rebels to attack Sierra Leonean towns and villages.
Under cross-examination today, DCT-292 told the court that the NPFL fighters who went to Sierra Leone did so voluntarily and allegations that they were sent by Mr. Taylor were wrong. The witness mentioned that NPFL commanders Anthony Menkunagbe, Dupoe Menkazohn, Francis Menwon, and Nixon Gaye, among many others, volunteered to help the RUF in Sierra Leone. These Liberian fighters, prosecution witnesses have said, committed atrocities in Sierra Leone and were later forced to leave the country. The witness said that he cautioned RUF leader Foday Sankoh to seek advice from Mr. Taylor even though the men had indicated that they were in Sierra Leone to help the RUF voluntarily. Prosecution counsel Nicholas Koumjian had his doubts.
“Sir, when you said that he [Foday Sankoh] should go talk to Charles Taylor, that was because you knew that these Liberian soldiers who were creating the problems were under the command of Charles Taylor, correct?” Mr. Koumjian asked the witness.
In his response, the witness said that “when they came they said they were not under the supervision, so I came to conclude that it was not Charles Taylor that sent these people.”
“I told Foday Sankoh to go back and tell Charles Taylor about it,” he added.
“Becauase you understood Charles Taylor was able to command those men, correct?” Mr. Koumjian asked again.
“He was their leader, yes, he can command them,” the witness responded.
On prosecution suggestion as to why he did not ask Mr. Sankoh to inform Amos Sawyer, who was the interim Liberian president at that time, the witness agreed with Mr. Koumjian that it was Mr. Taylor who had control over the Liberian fighters.
The witness also told the court that the relationship between the NPFL fighters in Sierra Leone and their RUF counterparts broke up when RUF members tried to initiate the NPFL rebels into a secret society. When the NPFL rebels heard about the plan to initiate them into the secret society, they went on the rampage, killing an RUF senior fighter and maltreating some other members of the Sierra Leone rebel group, the witness explained. He said that after consulting Mr. Taylor, RUF leader Mr. Sankoh expelled the NPFL fighters from Sierra Leone.
“He [Sankoh] left and when he came back, he came and told the people, you have come but what you are doing is not in the interest of the revolution, therefore, I have given you 48 hours to move from Sierra Leone,” he said.
Asked whether Mr. Sankoh told them he had agreed to something with Mr. Taylor, the witness said that “he didn’t discuss that with me at all sir.”
The cross-examination of the witness continues tomorrow.