In his second day of testimony, a former Sierra Leonean rebel leader continued to distance Charles Taylor from wrongdoing during the country’s bloody 11-year conflict, pointing instead to the United Nations and other Liberian rebel groups who did more to further the rebel cause through weapons supplies and other assistance than the former Liberian president ever did. He also told the court that Mr. Taylor was not responsible for an arms drop-off that is at the center of allegations related to supermodel Naomi Campbell.
Issa Sesay, currently serving a 52-year sentence for war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the Sierra Leonean conflict, again appeared before the Special Court for Sierra Leone this week — but this time as a witness for Mr. Taylor.
Mr. Sesay — the former interim leader of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), the rebel group which Mr. Taylor is alleged to have controlled and supported – today explained in detail how West African peacekeepers and Liberian rebels assisted his own rebel forces with arms and ammunition during the war.
Mr. Sesay today testified to an arms trade between the RUF and United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO), a rival rebel faction which fought against Mr. Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebel group. In 1997, RUF leader Foday Sankoh had allegedly given one of his top commanders, Sam Bockarie, USD 7000 to buy ammunition from ULIMO forces as the group had come under fire from a government-aligned militia group, the Kamajors. Mr. Sankoh was arrested and imprisoned not long after handing over the money.
Mr. Taylor’s lead counsel, Courtenay Griffiths, then read aloud sections of the “salute report” – a report prepared by Mr. Bockarie, already highlighted during the trial, that described RUF activities while Mr. Sankoh was in jail.
“Upon your departure, I initiated contact with ULIMO as per your instructions. We re-commenced a mutually beneficial relationship…I used the $7000 you gave me to purchase materials from ULIMO,” Mr, Griffiths read to the court, promoting a reaction from Mr. Sesay.
“This is the $7000 that I was talking to you about when I was explaining to the court that Mr. Sankoh gave to Sam Bockarie to purchase materials from ULIMO,” Mr. Sesay said.
Mr. Sesay explained that the arms trade between RUF and ULIMO continued from late December 1996 up to sometime in 1998 after the removal from power of the military junta which had overthrown the Sierra Leonean government in 1997.
Mr. Sesay said that apart from using the money left by Mr. Sankoh to make payment to ULIMO, RUF also sold produce harvested by civilians from farms. The money made from produce sales was used to pay for more ammunition. At the time, disarmament had not yet been completed in Liberia, he said. ULIMO fighters and their commanders came with arms and ammunition on a regular basis, and other items were also used to make payment to them.
“They’ll ask for money, generators, tape recorders…it came to a time, even if you gave them anything, they’ll take it if you don’t have money. It became very rampant,” he said.
In response to a question as to whether they received any arms and ammunition from Taylor at this time, Mr. Sesay said “No. At this time we did not even have any contact with Charles Taylor.”
“It was not possible [to contact Taylor]. At this time ULIMO was controlling from Foya right up to Bomi. It was not possible to get any contact with Charles Taylor or the NPFL,” he added.
When asked whether they had any radio communication with Mr. Taylor, he said “No. We hadn’t any radio contact with Mr. Taylor.”
Mr. Sesay also told the court that Mr. Sankoh had said he had given $50,000 to another RUF commander called Kposowa to purchase arms and ammunition from West African peacekeepers based in Liberia.
“When Mr. Sankoh came, he told me that he had given money to Kposowa to buy ammunition…” Mr. Sesay said.
Mr. Sesay also discussed an arms drop-off in a Sierra Leonean airstrip which is at the center of allegations involving Naomi Campbell. Prosecutors say that rebels had given Mr. Taylor diamonds in August 1997 to exchange for weapons during his travels in South Africa the following month – during which he is alleged to have sent rough diamonds to Ms. Campbell after a star-studded dinner hosted by then South African president, Nelson Mandela. The month after he returned, an arms shipment arrived for rebel forces.
Today, Mr. Sesay said that Mr. Taylor was not responsible for that shipment of arms, but an “agent for the RUF” was.
“Ibrahim Bah arranged for flight to land at Magagba between Mekeni and Magburaka,” Mr. Sesay said.
Speaking about the RUF’s association with Mr. Bah, the witness said that he (Bah) was a close friend of Mr. Sankoh, the two men having met while they underwent revolutionary training in Libya.
“Ibrahim Bah was Mr. Sankoh’s very close friend…he was a runner for Mr. Sankoh …Ibrahim Bah was like an agent for the RUF,” Mr. Sesay said.
Mr. Sesay also denied allegations that Mr. Sankoh had given instructions to his top commander, Mr. Bockarie, to take orders from Mr. Taylor when Mr. Sankoh was arrested and imprisoned in 1997.
He also denied that Mr. Taylor ordered a merger between the RUF and disgruntled Sierra Leonean soldiers who had overthrown the country’s elected government and formed the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC). Mr. Sesay, who was one of the RUF leaders at that time, today told the court that such instructions did not come from Mr. Taylor, but from Mr. Sankoh while he was incarcerated in Nigeria.
Mr. Sesay’s testimony continues on Wednesday.