A Sierra Leonean business woman who helped in recruiting fighters to invade Sierra Leone in 1991 this week concluded her testimony as Charles Taylor’s 18th witness, telling Special Court for Sierra Leone judges about her support and loyalty to the Sierra Leonean rebel leader and denying prosecution claims that she was not only supportive and loyal to the Sierra Leonean rebels, but that same support and loyalty extended to Mr. Taylor and his Liberian rebel group.
Mrs. Isatu Kallon spent more than a week testfying about the support she provided to Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels before they invaded Sierra Leone in 1991 as well as during the country’s 11 years conflict that lasted from 1991 to 2002. Prosecutors have alleged that Mr. Taylor and RUF leader Mr. Sankoh were involved in a joint criminal enterprise and such enterprise aimed to take over the territory of Sierra Leone and establish control over the country’s diamond resources. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations.
On Tuesday, Mrs. Kallon, who was involved in purchasing materials including fuel, food, and arms and ammunition for the RUF told the court that during her entire interaction with RUF leaders and commanders, she never saw or heard of any evidence that Mr. Taylor provided support or had a relationship with the RUF.
In a direct question and answer session with Mr. Taylor’s defense counsel Morris Anyah, the witness denied any knowledge of Mr. Taylor’s alleged support to the RUF, going further as to dismiss the evidence of key prosecution witnesses as “lies.”
“During the entire time that you interacted with Foday Sankoh, did the name Charles Taylor come up, did he ever mention the name Charles Taylor?” Mr. Anyah asked the witness on Tuesday in a direct question and answer session.
“Never,” Mrs. Kallon said.
“While you were in Liberia, did you ever see he and Charles Taylor together?” Mr. Anyah asked the witness.
“Never,” the witness said.
“You mentioned efforts made by yourself to purchase arms and ammunition for the RUF…did you hear of any instance when Charles Taylor is said to have given RUF arms?” Mr. Anyah pressed further.
“I never saw that happen. I did not hear about it,” answered Mrs. Kallon.
When asked again whether she ever heard anyone say that he was sent to fight in Sierra Leone by Mr. Taylor, the witness said “no.”
Also on Tuesday, Mrs. Kallon responded directly to the testimonies of prosecution witnesses who testified in 2008 about Mr. Taylor’s alleged involvement with the RUF.
In February 2008, a former RUF radio operator Perry Kamara, commonly known as King Perry, testified that Mr. Sankoh sought advice from Mr. Taylor on a regular basis and that any time Mr. Taylor gave such advice, the RUF would launch a major operation.
“Mr. Sankoh was always advised by Mr. Taylor. At anytime Mr. Sankoh received advice from Mr. Taylor, we would undertake a serious attack,” King Perry said in February 2008.
He said that such operations based on Mr. Taylor’s advice included the RUF attacks on the mining fields in Kono in the Eastern Province, and Sierra Rutile Mines in the Southern Province of Sierra Leone.
“Are you aware of this particular mission that Perry Kamara was talking about?” Mr. Anyah asked Mrs. Kallon on Tuesday.
“I don’t know about this one,” the witness said.
King Perry also in his 2008 testimony told the court that after the attack on the Sierra Rutile Mines, the RUF secured a huge amount of money at the mines and Mr. Taylor advised RUF leader Mr. Sankoh that the money should be used to establish and finance RUF diplomatic relations by having an RUF external delegation based in the Ivorian capital Abidjan. Mrs. Kallon dismissed this account as a lie, telling the court that she was the one who accompanied members of the external delegation to Ivory Coast and she had to sell some diamonds in order to provide funds to members of the delegation.
The witness also refuted claims by another prosecution witness, Isaac Mongor, who in March 2008 testified that it was Mr. Taylor who sent him to train RUF fighters at Camp Naama in Liberia.
When asked whether Mr. Mongor had ever mentioned to her that he had been sent by Mr. Taylor to conduct the said training at Camp Naama, the witness said “no.”
She added, however, that Mr. Mongo told her “that he went to Camp Naama to help Mohamed [another RUF commander] and others to train the boys [RUF fighters].”
According to Mrs. Kallon, Mr. Mongor lied when he testified that he was close to Mr. Sankoh, even before the invasion of Sierra Leone.
“Isaac was just a mere bodyguard to John Kargbo [a rebel commander in Liberia],” Mrs. Kallon said.
On Wednesday, under cross-examination,Lead prosecutor, Brenda Hollis, sought to establish that Mrs. Kallon was an influential figure and provided assistance to both the RUF and Mr. Taylor’s NPFL rebel group in Liberia. The witness, while admitting her support for the RUF, denied any suggestions that she had links with the NPFL.
Asked whether she did “provide support to the NPFL during the time NPFL controlled Herbel,” the witness “I did not help them.”
When Mrs. Hollis pointed out that NPFL fighters used to eat the food that the witness cooked for sale without making any payment, the witness responded that “that is not direct assistance.”
When confronted with the suggestion that while she was based at NPFL headquarters in Gbarngha that she did provide assistance for the rebel group, the witness said that she only “used to work at the market” in Gbarngha.
She admitted that when a rival rebel faction attacked Gbarngha in the 1990s, she “fled Gbarngha with NPFL fighters and supporters.”
Mrs. Hollis also pointed out that when the RUF signed a peace agreement with the government of Sierra Leone in 1999, the witness was one of the persons selected by RUF leader Mr. Sankoh, as part of a delegation to attend a meeting with Mr. Taylor. The witness agreed that this was the case.
“You were selected because of your close association with both Foday Sankoh and Charles Taylor,” Mrs. Hollis suggested.
“No, I don’t know about that one,” Mrs. Kallon said.
The witness denied claims that during the conflicts in both Sierra Leone and Liberia, she was known by the code name “Iron Lady.” According to Mrs. Kallon, nobody ever called her that name and if they ever did, it probably could have been behind her back.
“And they referred to you as Iron Lady because you were such a strong liaison between the RUF and Charles Taylor, correct?” Ms. Hollis asked.
“No. Nobody ever called me that name,” the witness said.
The witness agreed that she carried the code name “Sensitive” — but while admitting that she used that name to communicate with the RUF while she was in Guinea, she denied using the same name to communicate with the NPFL while she was in Danane, Ivory Coast.
“I did not communicate with NPFL,” she said.
In her testimony on Wednesday, the witness also told the court that after the RUF invasion of Sierra Leone in 1991, her business dipped because she had spent a huge portion of her money to finance the RUF. Ms. Hollis retorted that the downslide of her business was because Mr. Taylor and the RUF leader Mr. Sankoh stopped paying her for supplying food to RUF and NPFL trainees at Camp Naama in Liberia.
“No. I only had money business with Foday Sankoh,” Mrs. Kallon replied.
As the witness concluded her testimony on Thursday, she denied prosecution suggestions that her loyalty did not only lie to Mr. Sankoh and his RUF, but the such loyalty extended to Mr. Taylor. Ms. Hollis challenged the witness: she was not only loyal to Mr. Sankoh, but to Mr. Taylor and his 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.
“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.
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. On Thursday, 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.”
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.”
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. On Thursday, 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.
Earlier on Monday, Mrs. Kallon told the court 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 on Monday, 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. 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.
On Monday, 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 a 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.
On Friday, prosecutors resumed the cross-examination of Mr. Taylor’s fifteenth witness, DCT-190, having being put on hold because after his direct-examination, the judges ruled the his written statements which were disclosed by defense lawyers were “grossly inadequate.”
As they resumed his cross-examination, prosecutors sought to establish that there were several inconsistencies between the witness’s written statement made to defense lawyers and his oral testimony in court.
The witness in his direct-examination told the court about being involved in fighting in the West African sub-region for the about fifteen years, having been a member of the United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO) rebel group, a rival rebel faction which fought against Mr. Taylor’s NPFL rebel group, was recruited into the Civil Defense Forces (CDF) of Sierra Leone with an aim of fighting against rebel forces in Sierra Leone, and was recruited as part of the Liberians United For Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), a rebel group which fought to topple the government of Mr. Taylor while he served as president of Liberia.
On Friday, prosecution counsel Katherine Howarth sought to establish that the witness has given inconsistent accounts to defense lawyers and Special Court for Sierra Leone judges.
Ms. Howarth pointed out that in his brifieng notes with Mr. Taylor’s lead defense counsel Courtenay Griffiths on June 6 2010, the witness said that LURD forces dispelled attacks by RUF rebels in the Guinean town of Gekeidou. The witness denied saying this to Mr. Griffiths and insisted that a mistake had been made.
In his written statement, the witness was quoted to have said “we attacked Gekeidou to push RUF back into Sierra Leone.”
The witness responded that “It might have been a mistake.”
“It was after disarmament that we travelled. By that time, RUF had disarmed…we took this operation after disarment,” he added.
When put to him that he was “changing his story before these judges,” the witness said that “i am not changing my story.”
“You are saying one thing to the judges and a completely different thing to your lawyers,” Ms. Howarth put to the witness.
“I am telling you there is a mistake somewhere,” the witness responded.
Prosecutors have long stated and witnesses have testified that while Mr. Taylor served as president of Liberia, he sent RUF fighters to attack Guinea. Prosecutors now seek to establish that the witness is changing his account because an admission that LURD had pushed RUF out of Gekeidou will give credence to accounts that Mr. Taylor indeed sent the RUF to attack Guinea.
Ms. Howarth therefore put to the witness that “you know very well that the RUF attacked Gekeidou on behalf of Mr. Taylor.”
The witness responded that he could not say that this was the case.
Ms. Howarth again pointed out that in his written statements to defense lawyers, the witness had stated that in 1992, NPFL fighters helped RUF rebels in attacking Pujehun in southern Sierra Leone.
“There were some NPFL elements assisting the RUF at this time ,” the witness was quoted in a June 6 2010 statement made to Mr. Griffiths.
When prosecutors commenced his cross-examination on June 10 2010, the witness told the court that he “never said NPFL elements were assisting RUF in Pujehun” at the end of 1992.
Ms. Howarth again put to the witness that “you are contradicting everything that you’ve been saying in this court.”
“You don’t want to say that now because you don’t want to incriminate Mr. Taylor,” Ms. Howarth put to the witness.
“In the first place, this is my first time of seeing Mr. Taylor and so i have nothing to hold back for Mr. Taylor,” the witness said.
Ms. Howarth also pointed out that in the witness’s direct-examination, he told the court that LURD leader Sekou Damate Conneh informed him in June 2003 that Liberian journalist Hassan Bility had called from Monrovia to inform them that Mr. Taylor’s forces were running out of ammunition and so the time was ripe to attack the Liberian capital. The prosecutor put to the witness that the last time Mr. Bility was arrested in Liberia was in June 2002 and upon his release and based on a condition given by Mr. Taylor, Mr. Bility was taken out of the country in December 2002.
Ms. Howarth told the witness that “Mr. Bility was completely out of the picture and was in the USA” by June 2003.
The witness explained that he never spoke to Mr. Bility but that he had been briefed by Mr. Conneh who said he had spoken with Mr. Bility.
As prosecutors highlight inconsistencies in the witness’s accounts, they seek discredit the witness and establish to the judges that he is not credible and so his testimony cannot be relied on. It will be left with the judges to determine the authenticity of the witness’s testimony.