Atrocities committed during the 11-year conflict in Sierra Leone increased when rebel forces teamed up with disgruntled members the Sierra Leone armed forces after a 1997 military coup in Sierra Leone, according to testimony by a top level former rebel commander in The Hague today.
Issa Hassan Sesay, former interim leader of Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) has taken more than a week testifying about events that occured during the coinflict in Sierra Leone, denying prosecution allegations that Mr. Taylor was involved in a joint criminal enterprise with Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in Sierra Leone. Mr. Sesay has refuted claims that Mr. Taylor controlled and supported the RUF and that RUF commanders incluing himself regularly took diamonds to the former president in Liberia in exchange for arms and ammunition, which prosecutors say were used to commit atrocities in Sierra Leone. In May 1997, members of the Sierra Leone army overthrew the elected government of Sierra Leone and formed the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC). The soldiers invited RUF rebels and together, the two groups formed a junta regime which ruled Sierra Leone from May 1997 to February 1998 when they were forcefully removed from the country’s capital Freetown. As the two groups withdrew to the country’s hinterland, they committed atrocities, culminating in the infamous rebel invasion of Freetown in January 1999, an attack which Mr. Sesay has said was undertaken solely by the AFRC with no RUF involvement. Today, as Mr. Sesay continued his testimony, he told the court that the massive increase in the commission of atrocities took place because the RUF joined up with the AFRC. These atrocities, Mr. Sesay said were committed mainly by the AFRC soldiers who had themselves become a rebel faction in the country. Mr. Sesay explained to the court the kinds of crimes that were committed once the AFRC joined forces with the RUF.
“Well, we are talking about amputations, burning down of houses, killing of civilians, and those were the practices they did upto the time they entered Freetown,” Mr. Sesay said.
“And when they entered Freetown, they continued the same practice, they captured people forcefully, they asked them to carry their loads for them, they amputated civilians, burned and killed civilians, burnt down police stations, killed police men, such things,” he added.
Prosecutors alleged that the Mr. Taylor was involved in a joint criminal enterprise with both the RUF and AFRC rebels and that it was in pursuit of such a common plan that the rebel forces invaded Freetown in January 1999. Prosecutors say that while the rebel forces were in Freetown in 1999, the high command of the RUF gave regular updates of their activities to Mr. Taylor and his Director of Special Security Services (SSS) Benjamin Yeaten, both of whom allegedly congratulated the rebels for their success in invading the country’s capital. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations. According to Mr. Sesay, when the AFRC forces invaded Freetown in 1999, they did not communicate with RUF commanders until they got into Freetown and needed extra help from the RUF, a help which Mr. Sesay said never came in.
The AFRC, Mr. Sesay said, held a grudge against the RUF leadership because they believed “we were responsible for their being driven from Freetown because they said if we had reinforced them, they wouldn’t have driven them from Freetown.”
Mr. Sesay spoke extensively about the infighting that followed the AFRC retreat from Freetown, an operation that the RUF had refused to take part in. According to Mr. Sesay, there was massive break in cooperation between the AFRC and that even in the RUF, there were serious infightings which made it difficult for commands to flow from an organized set up in the rebel group. Defense lawyers seek to establish that the infightings and lack of a central command system in the RUF and AFRC affeceted the existence of any common plan or purpose in the country and that claims of Mr. Taylor controlling the affairs of these groups in a organized manner are false.
When asked whether the RUF was a unified organization in the late 1990s, Mr. Sesay said “No.”
“The RUF was not thinking as one during that period and did not have a single command structure during that period,” Mr. Sesay said.
Mr. Sesay’s testimony continues on Wednesday.
Editor’s note: Apologies for the delay in posting.