A woman who helped top Sierra Leonean rebels recruit and train fighters in Liberia in the early 1990s today said that Charles Taylor was not involved in that effort as far as she knew. Her testimony contradicts prosecution allegations that the former Liberia president backed rebel forces as they planned to invade Sierra Leone in 1991.
Isatu Kallon, known as “Mammie Iye” said she helped top rebel leader, Foday Sankoh of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in his drive to enlist and train rebel forces, but not once did he or other top rebel commanders hint at Mr. Taylor’s involvement in their 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.
“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 Special Court for Sierra Leone that when Mr. Taylor’s rebel forces – the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) — attacked Liberia in 1989, Sierra Leonean rebels in that group 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.
Mrs. Kallon added that “he [Sankoh] sympathized with the people for the harassment. He told them not to blame the NPFL fighters but to blame our government because our government should have rescued us.”
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.
Asked whether she knew of any other people who provided such assistance to the RUF rebels, the witness said that “I know about myself but the area was so big, I did not go to the other places. I only know about myself and my husband.”
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.
Mrs. Kallon’s testimony continues tomorrow.