A woman who said she helped the Sierra Leonean rebels during the country’s 11-year brutal war today said she also persuaded them to come out of the bush and join disgruntled Sierra Leonean soldiers who had overthrown their government in a military coup in 1997.
Isatu. Kallon today told the Special Court for Sierra Leone that when a group of Sierra Leonean soldiers who formed the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) under the leadership of Major Johnny Paul Koroma and overthrew the government of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah in 1997, the soldiers put her in radio communication with RUF rebels. She said she convinced the rebels to come out of the bush and form a coalition government with the soldiers.
“I spoke to them [RUF rebels], I said to them I am Isatu Kallon, please come out of the bush. Everything is finished,” Mrs. Kallon told the court.
When asked to explain why she thought the soldiers, formerly of the Sierra Leone Army (SLA), had asked her to speak with the rebels, Mrs. Kallon responded that “the SLA had been talking to the RUF, maybe it was during those conversations that my name came up.”
“They said it was Johnny Paul Koroma who had asked that I help with the peace process,” she added.
Prosecutors have alleged that Mr. Taylor was influential in getting the RUF to join the AFRC after the 1997 coup in Sierra Leone but Mr. Taylor has said that he had nothing to do with the RUF’s decision to join the soldiers. In her testimony today, Mrs. Kallon did not mention Mr. Taylor’s name but pointed out that the AFRC soldiers had already established dialogue with the RUF rebels before she spoke with RUF commanders to travel to the country’s capital in Freetown to join the junta government. She said that RUF leader, Foday Sankoh, also communicated with the RUF rebels and told them to join the AFRC.
The RUF rebels, the witness said, requested that the AFRC “authorities should send food and vehicles for them.
Asked by Mr. Taylor’s defense counsel Morris Anyah whether “the SLA soldiers responded to the request of the RUF,” the witness said “yes.”
After the 1997 coup, the soldiers were able to have access to Mrs. Kallon because she was already in the country’s capital when the coup took place, having been arrested in Guinea when she was there to buy arms and ammunition for the RUF. In her testimony last week, the witness said that she travelled to the Guinean capital, Conakry, in the company of a Guinean army captain to purchase arms and ammunition for the RUF. She did not say whether she obtained the arms and ammunition when the court adjourned on Friday.
Today, the witness said she was arrested by Guinean security forces on her return from Conakry with a truck load of ammunition boxes and 19,000 United States dollars in her possession. She was later transferred to Sierra Leone where she was detained by the then military junta, the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) under the leadership of Captain Valentine Strasser. The witness testified about meeting NPRC officials including the country’s then Vice Head of State Brigadier Julius Maada Bio. When Brigadier Bio overthrew Captain Strasser in a palace coup in 1996, the witness said she encouraged Brigadier Bio to reach out to RUF leader Mr. Sankoh for peaceful end to the conflict in Sierra Leone.
“Now that you have overthrown, maybe you’ll be the one to bring peace to this country because maybe the Pa [Sankoh] will talk to you,” the witness referenced her discussion with Brigadier Bio in 1996.
“After that, Maada Bio started the process of negotiating with Foday Sankoh over the radio,” she said.
These discussions eventually led to the signing of the peace agreement between the government of Sierra Leone and the RUF in the Ivorian capital Abidjan on November 30 1996.
The witness also spoke about efforts she made to settle internal disputes in the RUF during the course of the conflict in the country. When asked why she exercised so much influence over the rebels, the witness said that it was because the rebels had immense respect for her, having supported them as recruits when they underwent training in Liberia.
Mrs. Kallon’s testimony continues tomorrow.