The decision to relocate a fellow rebel commander from Sierra Leone to Liberia in 1999 to promote peace in the war-torn country was not taken by Charles Taylor alone, but rather by West African leaders acting jointly, a former Sierra Leonean rebel leader told the Special Court for Sierra Leone said today.
Today, Issa Sesay – former interim leader of Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) – said that after his group signed a peace agreement with the Sierra Leonean government in 1999, Sam Bockarie, who was one of the rebels’ top commanders, resisted disarmament. Mr. Bockarie then moved to Liberia. According to Mr. Sesay, a meeting in of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) leaders – including Nigeria’s former president, Olusegun Obasanjo — decided it was best for Mr. Bockarie to stay in Liberia as he had become a hindrance to the peace process in Sierra Leone. This information was told to Mr. Sesay, he said, by the rebels’ then leader, Foday Sankoh.
In his statements to the Special Court today, and consistent with his testimony since taking the witness stand last week, Mr. Sesay today continued to distance Mr. Taylor from the Sierra Leonean rebel group — and from prosecution charges that the former Liberian president controlled the RUF and its actions.
“He [Sankoh] went to Monrovia and they had a meeting about Sam Bockarie’s issue and that himself, president Taylor, president Obasanjo of Nigeria attended that meeting and they decided, because Sam Bockarie was an obstacle in respect of the Lome Peace Accord, Sam Bockarie should stay in Liberia and Foday Sankoh should implement the peace process,” Mr. Sesay told the court.
“Was the decision for Sam Bockarie to go to Liberia made by Charles Taylor alone as alleged by this prosecution?” Courtenay Griffiths, defense counsel for Mr. Taylor, asked Mr. Sesay.
“No, it was not Charles Taylor’s singular decision,” Mr. Sesay responded. “Obasanjo was involved in the decision for Bockarie to stay in Monrovia, including Mr. Sankoh,”
When asked whether Mr. Bockarie had gone to Liberia “on the invitation of Charles Taylor,” Mr. Sesay said “No.”
“Sam Bockarie went there because he had a quarrel with Mr. Sankoh. He knew that what he was doing was a bad thing that is why he left to go to Liberia because he knew that if we had met him, we would have disciplined him,” Mr. Sesay said.
Mr. Sesay also told the court that Mr. Bockarie lambasted Mr. Sankoh when he left Sierra Leone for Liberia in 1999, telling other RUF fighters that the Mr. Sankoh was ungrateful for not listening to his advice that RUF fighters were not supposed to disarm to Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) soldiers, who were meant to oversee the disarmament process.
“Bockarie said he had never come across somebody who was ungrateful as Mr. Sankoh,” Mr Sesay said. “He said he had maintained the RUF in Mr. Sankoh’s absence, when Mr. Sankoh was arrested in Nigeria, he was the one who ran the RUF, he had fought and defeated ECOMOG, he had secured the release of Mr. Sankoh and now Mr. Sankoh did not want to listen to him. He said Mr. Sankoh was the most ungrateful man on earth.”
Mr. Sesay also explained that when Mr. Sankoh was arrested in May 2000, after having ordered RUF fighters to abduct United Nations peacekeepers in Sierra Leone, Mr. Taylor sent his Director of Special Security Services (SSS) Benjamin Yeaten to invite Mr. Sesay to a meeting with him (Taylor) in Liberia. Mr. Sesay said that upon arriving in Monrovia, Mr. Taylor was very angry about the action of the RUF.
“He [Taylor] looked very angry,” Mr. Sesay told the court.
“He [Taylor] said if Foday Sankoh and I thought that we can fight the UN — He said that other people will be thinking now, like America and Britain, they will be thinking now that this is the handy work of Charles Taylor but as long as God almighty knows that my hands are clean,” Mr. Sesay continued.
He said Mr. Taylor informed him that he had received a mandate from West African leaders that “he should talk to the RUF to facilitate the release of the peacekeepers.”
Prosecutors allege that since Mr. Taylor was in control of the RUF, he used his powers over the rebels to secure the release of the peacekeepers. Mr. Taylor has insisted that he was only acting on the instructions of other West African leaders. Mr. Sesay, as he testified today, supported Mr. Taylor’s position.
“Was he [Taylor] talking to you because he was in control of the RUF or because he had a mandate from the guarantors of the peace process,” Mr. Griffiths asked Mr. Sesay.
“He talked to me because he had mandate from the guarantors but he was not controlling the RUF. RUF was under the control of Mr. Sankoh,” Mr. Sesay said.
The witness said that his meeting with Mr. Taylor after the abduction of the UN peacekeepers was the first time he had spoken to or met with the former president.
Mr. Sesay’s testimony continues on Thursday.