Charles Taylor was not the man who ordered or planned the attack on a diamond-rich town in Sierra Leone in 1998, a former rebel leader has told the Special Court for Sierra Leone today.
On his fourth day on the witness stand, Issa Sesay today said another rebel group supplied the ammunition used to attack the diamond-rich town of Kono for “Operation Fita Fata” – not Charles Taylor, as prosecutors have alleged. United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO) rebels sold ammunition to a member of his own Sierra Leonean rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), named Kennedy, Mr Sesay said. Kennedy then buried the ammunition before it was eventually handed over to a top RUF commander, Sam Bockarie, who passed on some of it to his colleague, Superman, to launch the attack on Kono, according to Mr. Sesay. (Mr. Sesay is the RUF’s former interim leader, who is serving a 52-year jail sentence in Rwanda for atrocities committed during the brutal 11-year conflict in his West African country).
“The ammunition that Bockarie gave to Superman for Fiti Fata – where did they come from?” asked Mr. Taylor’s lead defense counsel, Courtenay Griffiths.
“It was the ammunition that Kennedy bought from ULIMO that had been buried in the ground,” Mr. Sesay told the court.
“Did the ammunition for the Fiti Fata operation come from Charles Taylor?” Mr. Griffiths asked again.
“No, it did not come from Charles Taylor,” Mr. Sesay responded.
Mr. Sesay explained that Kennedy had established a base in Voinjama–the base of the ULIMO fighters in Liberia– in order to effectively facilitate the arms and ammunition trade with ULIMO. Mr. Sesay said he personally visited Kennedy in Voinjama where he saw the ammunition that had been dug out from the ground and put in rice bags.
“I met Kennedy in Voinjama – I saw the ammunition in his room, he said he had bought them from ULIMO…they were in bags…Kennedy told me that these are the ammunition that I have bought, but they were a bit messy,” Mr. Sesay said.
He said that the bags of ammunition were brought to RUF headquarters in Buedu, in eastern Sierra Leone, and they were cleaned with gasoline before being handed to Superman for the “Fiti Fata Operation.”
Mr. Griffiths read portions of the RUF “salute report” that was presented by Mr. Bockarie to RUF leader Foday Sankoh after his release from prison in Nigeria in 1999. In the report, Mr. Bockarie told Mr. Sankoh that “I renewed my contacts with ULIMO and obtained ammunition from them. It was out of these materials that I gave Superman to attack Kono.”
“Did Charles Taylor plan and order the Fiti Fata mission?” Mr. Griffiths asked again.
“No. It was not Mr. Taylor because as far as I know, Bockarie was not in contact with Mr. Taylor,” Mr. Sesay responded.
Also in his testimony today, Mr. Sesay dismissed allegations that it was Mr. Taylor who sent traditional herbalists to Buedu to perform ceremonies on RUF fighters to protect them from bullets during “Operation Fiti Fata.” In 2008, several prosecution witness — including Samuel Kargbo and Alice Pyne — testified that Mr. Taylor sent these traditional herbalists to perform these ceremonies in Buedu and Kono as part of preparations to attack the diamond-rich town. While Mr. Kargbo testified that he underwent the ceremony in Buedu, Ms. Pyne said that she was present in Buedu when the herbalists arrived, and that she was part of those who underwent the ceremony in Kono. Today, Mr. Sesay told the court that the herbalists were from Lofa County, where ULIMO forces were based, and their services were facilitated by an ex-ULIMO fighter called Titus.
“The medicine men came from Lofa County,” Mr. Sesay said.
“It was one of the ex-ULIMO fighters called Titus, he was a Lorma guy. Titus was a friend of Bockarie and he was a brother to one of our vanguards, Major Moiba. So it was Bockarie who made this request to Major Moiba to get the men who were protecting the ULIMO fighters,” Mr. Sesay said. “They called Titus and Bockarie gave him some money and he came with the people, two men and one woman.”
“They came and treated people in Buedu and then went to Kono and treated people there. They were Lorma people based in Voinjama,” Mr. Sesay said.
Mr. Sesay said that he also personally received treatment from the herbalists.
“What do you say to suggestions that these medicine men were in fact sent by Charles Taylor?” Mr. Griffiths asked.
“That is a black lie,” Mr. Sesay responded.
Mr. Sesay also responded to prosecution testimony that in April 1998, he misplaced diamonds he was supposed to take to Charles Taylor. Several prosecution witnesses had told the court that Mr. Sesay had returned from a trip to Monrovia reporting that the diamonds he was meant to give to the former Liberian president were missing. Mr. Sesay today said he did in fact misplace the diamonds – but that they were not intended for Mr. Taylor. Instead, he said he had planned to take them to Burkina Faso where they were to be sold and exchanged for arms and ammunition. Mr. Sesay said that diamonds were unknowingly dropped at Carey Street in Monrovia during a rainy night.
Prosecutors allege that Mr. Taylor regularly received diamonds from RUF rebels –including Mr. Sesay — and said diamonds were sold by the former president to fund arms and ammunition purchases for use by rebel forces in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations.
Mr. Sesay’s testimony continues on Friday.