A former Sierra Leonean rebel leader, released from his jail cell in Rwanda to testify on behalf of Charles Taylor, today rejected claims that the former Liberian president received diamonds from his neighboring rebel group, nor controlled the rebels’ actions during Sierra Leone’s bloody civil conflict.
Issa Sesay, who led the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group for a short period in the late 1990s, has himself been convicted of charges including war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the Sierra Leonean conflict and is serving a 52-year long jail sentence. Prosecutors allege that Mr. Sesay had traveled regularly to Liberia to deliver diamonds to Mr. Taylor in exchange for arms and ammunition during the country’s brutal conflict, that that he had received direct orders from Mr. Taylor. Mr. Taylor has denied all allegations against him.
“Was Charles Taylor ever in charge of the RUF, Mr. Sesay?” Mr. Taylor’s lead defense counsel, Courtenay Griffiths, asked the former RUF leader today.
“To my knowledge, no,” Mr. Sesay responded.
Previous prosecution witnesses have told the Special Court for Sierra Leone that Mr. Sesay was not the only rebel leader to bring diamonds to Mr. Taylor — others, including RUF founder and head, Foday Sankoh, and leading commander, Sam Bockarie, also traveled regularly to Liberia with diamonds for the former Liberian president. In his testimony today, Mr. Sesay denied taking diamonds to Mr. Taylor, and said neither Mr. Sankoh nor Mr. Bockarie told him about taking diamonds to Mr. Taylor either.
“Did you ever give diamonds to Charles Taylor, Mr. Sesay?” Mr. Griffiths asked the witness.
“Me, I never one day gave diamonds to Mr. Taylor,” Mr. Sesay responded.
“To your knowledge, did Foday Sankoh ever give diamonds to Mr. Taylor?” Mr. Griffiths asked again.
“Foday Sankoh never told me that,” Mr. Sesay said.
Asked again whether Mr. Bockarie ever gave diamonds to Mr. Taylor, Mr. Sesay responded: “Sam Bockarie never told me that.”
Mr. Sesay also spoke extensively about the training of RUF fighters at Camp Naama in Liberia and how the rebel group conducted itself during the civil conflict in Sierra Leone. Speaking about the RUF’s plans to invade Sierra Leone in 1991, the witness told the court that Mr. Taylor never played any role in the formation of the RUF. He did, however, admit that the RUF committed crimes against Sierra Leonean civilians, including rape, murder, looting, forced labor and recruitment and use of children for combat purposes– crimes for which prosecutors say that Mr. Taylor bears responsibility (and which Mr. Taylor denies).
When asked by Mr. Griffiths whether RUF members were involved in looting, Mr. Sesay said: “yes sir, RUF members looted.”
On allegations that RUF members committed murder, Mr. Sesay said “yes, RUF members committed murder.”
On the crime of rape: “yes, RUF fighters, that happened.”
And on the recruitment of child soldiers: “well, the children, some of the commanders used to do it but it was not an official policy of the RUF that children should be trained like adults,” Mr. Sesay said.
Mr. Sesay also told the court that during the conflict in Sierra Leone, RUF rebels obtained arms and ammunition mostly from enemy forces, but that Mr. Sankoh also used to buy some from Guinean forces.
Contrary to prosecution allegations that it was Mr. Taylor who appointed him as interim leader of the RUF, Mr. Sesay told the court that he was appointed by the West African leaders during a meeting in Liberia. His appointment was not made by Mr. Taylor alone, he told the court.
Mr. Sesay’s testimony continues tomorrow.