A Sierra Leonean woman who helped top Sierra Leonean rebels in recruiting and training fighters in Liberia this week told Special Court for Sierra Leone that as far as she knew, Charles Taylor’s name was never mentioned as one of those helping to recruit and train rebels to invade Sierra Leone in 1991. The witness also told the court that West African peacekeepers and Guinean military officers were involved in trading diesel, and arms and ammunition with Sierra Leonean rebel commanders during the West African country’s 11 years civil war.
Isatu Kallon, commonly called “Mammie Iye,” told the court on Wednesday that while she helped Revolutionary United Front (RUF) leader Foday Sankoh to enlist and train rebel fighters to invade Sierra Leone in 1991, not once did she ever hear from Mr. Sankoh or other senior RUF commanders that Mr. Taylor was involved in those efforts.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, have alleged that the RUF rebels received substantial support from Mr. Taylor in recruiting and training fighters for the invasion of Sierra Leone after his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebel group attacked Liberia in 1989. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations, telling the court that he had no knowledge that RUF rebels were being recruited and trained in Liberia.
The witness on Wednesday said that during a meeting held at her house in Liberia where recruitment of RUF fighters was the main agenda item, she never heard Mr. Taylor’s name.
“Madam Kallon, that meeting that Pa Morlai [another name for Foday Sankoh] held in your house, do you know whether during the course of that meeting, the name Charles Taylor was ever mentioned?” asked Morris Anyah, defense counsel for Charles Taylor.
“At that time, no,” Mrs. Kallon responded.
Mr. Anyah also asked the witness about her conversation with another senior RUF member, Philip Palmer, whom she said was transporting Sierra Leonean volunteers for training to a place called Sokoto at Camp Naama in Liberia after they had been freed from the hands of NPFL rebels.
“When Palmer came with the truck and the volunteers entered the truck, and when Palmer later on came back two days after, during that two day period of time, did you ever hear Palmer mention the name Charles Taylor?” Mr. Anyah asked.
“No.” the witness said.
“When Palmer spoke of this place Sokoto and he mentioned that it was somewhere near Naama, during that conversation with him, did the name Charles Taylor come up?” Mr. Anyah asked.
“No,” Mrs. Kallon said.
Mrs. Kallon went on to tell the judges that when Mr. Taylor’s NPFL rebel forces attacked Liberia in 1989, Sierra Leoneans in Liberia were harassed until they were rescued by RUF leader Mr. Sankoh. These Sierra Leonean nationals came to like Mr. Sankoh since he had saved their lives.
“There was too much harassment so when the Pa [Sankoh] came, he was able to stop that so they liked him,” Mrs. Kallon said.
On some occasions, Mrs. Kallon said that she also helped Mr. Sankoh to rescue Sierra Leonean nationals who were later recruited into the RUF.
Mrs. Kallon told the court that she used to provide food and soap for the RUF rebels while they underwent training at Sokoto in Camp Naama. She said Mr. Sankoh used to give her money to provide those services to the RUF but the money was never enough and so she had to use her own resources to provide enough food for the trainees.
Asked how she got extra money to provide these services to the RUF, Mrs. Kallon said that “through the business that I was doing.” She said that her husband also used to help with some money.
According to the witness, when she visited the scene to have a first hand look at the people she was providing support for, she found out that the RUF recruits were being trained in a valley at Camp Naama. The NPFL fighters, she said were being trained on a hill at the same Camp Naama.
When asked by Mr. Anyah whether the NPFL fighters ever interacted with the RUF recruits, the witness said that “the time that I went there, no.”
The witness said she also realized that the gate to Sokoto where the RUF rebels were being trained was always closed. She said she asked Mr. Sankoh why the gate was not open.
“He said his ideology that he gave his boys, he did not want them to mingle with the NPFL,” said told the court.
The witness said she could not tell what such ideology was.
On Thursday, Mrs. Kallon explained how Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) peacekeepers did business in Liberia. Mrs. Kallon said she bought diesel on behalf RUF rebel leader, Mr. Sankoh, from ECOMOG forces in exchange for palm oil.
“The people that you did business with, who were those people?” asked Mr. Anyah.
“ECOMOG,” the witness said. “There were boats there, in the river, but during the war, all those boats were under ECOMOG.”
“But when you wanted to do business with it, you’ll take a white piece of cloth and wave it, then they would know that you wanted to do business and they will come,” she explained.
“Are you telling the court that ECOMOG was engaged in business, commercial activities in Liberia?” Mr. Anyah asked again.
“Yes, we were doing business with them,” the witness said.
Asked whether she had “to pay money for the diesel when you bought it,” the witness said “I did not pay money, I sent palm oil.”
When asked to tell the court what she did with the diesel: “I gave it to Pa Foday Sankoh.”
On Friday, Mrs. Kallon testified that she was involved in purchasing arms and ammunition from Guinean military officers for use by the RUF in Sierra Leone. The witness said that her contact in Guinea was a Guinean Army Captain who was based in the Guinean town of Gekedou. The Captain, the witness said, had requested an amount of 16,000 United States dollars for the supply of arms and ammunition contained in a list prepared by RUF rebels. The witness explained to the court that RUF commanders did not have the physical cash to make the payment and so they gave her pieces of diamonds which she sold in order to obtain what was needed by the RUF. Defense lawyer for Mr. Taylor, Mr. Anyah asked the witness to describe the diamonds that were given to her by the rebels and the price at which she sold them.
“They [diamonds] were packaged in a white paper, the papers were doubled, but the smaller pieces were in the majority, there was one large one that weighed seven carats,” Mrs. Kallon told the court.
Asked by Mr. Anyah to tell the court “how many others were there apart from this one seven carat diamond,” the witness said that “I did not count them, when I wanted to sell them, I sold them wholesale.” She added that the diamonds given to her could fit into her one hand.
Mr. Anyah also asked the witness whether she could remember “the type of things that were on the list.”
Mrs. Kallon told the court that “the one they said 20 boxes of AK, the other one, they said 15 G-3, then the other one was a sort of RPG bomb, that’s between 5-10 boxes.”
The witness said she later travelled with the Army Captain to the Guinean capital Conakry to obtain the arms and ammunition. The witness did not say whether she travelled back from Conakry with the arms and ammunition when the court adjourned for the day.
According to Mrs. Kallon, in her initial contact with the Guinean Army captain, which was prior to RUF rebels giving her the diamonds for the purchase of materials, she was able to obtain two cans of ammunition for use in an AK-47 rifle. She said that when she reported this to RUF commander Peter Vandy, the rebel commander informed her that on the other side of the Sierra Leonean border with Liberia, the RUF was transacting successful arms trade with United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO) rebels, a rival faction to Mr. Taylor’s NPFL rebel group.Prosecutors have alleged that Mr. Taylor was the main source of support for RUF rebels during the conflict in Sierra Leone. It has been alleged that diamonds obtained by RUF rebels were taken to Mr. Taylor in Liberia who in turn supplied them with arms and ammunition. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations, saying in his testimony that there was sufficient evidence to point that RUF rebels were involved in diamond trades with ULIMO rebels as well as West African peacekeepers from Nigeria and Guinea. On Friday, the former president’s 18th witness, Mrs. Kallon sought to establish that she was a key person involved in facilitating the arms trade for the RUF and that the said business was not transacted with Mr. Taylor.
The trial continues Monday.