Charles Taylor’s lawyers today cited a high ranking United Nations official who said that West African leaders supported the replacement of Sierra Leone’s top rebel leader in the name of securing peace in the war-town nation. Reading from a 2008 statement, Mr. Taylor’s team sought to further distance Charles Taylor from prosecution claims that he controlled Sierra Leonean rebels during their brutal rampage throughout the country’s 11-year civil war.
According to a statement by the former Special Representative of the UN Secretary General (SRSG) to Sierra Leone, Ambassador Oluyemi Adeneji, read in the Special Court for Sierra Leone today, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) leaders were fully supportive of Issa Sesay – currently on the witness stand for Mr. Taylor – taking over the leadership of Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) when peace negotiations were getting tough.
“ECOWAS was unequivocal in support of Sesay and were prepared to work with Sesay alone,” the statement quoted Ambassador Adeneji as saying.
While Ambassador Adeneji noted the support Mr. Sesay received from ECOWAS leaders, he was clear in his statement that he could not remember the circumstances surrounding Mr. Sesay’s appointment as leader of the RUF.
“I cannot remember the details of Sesay’s appointment as leader of the RUF but I do know that ECOWAS accepted Sesay as leader of the RUF,” the Ambassador said.
The Ambassador added in his statement that “it was agreed that [Foday] Sankoh was no longer a reliable point person for peace and that ECOWAS should identify a reliable commander in the RUF.”
“Sankoh remained uncommitted to the peace process…Sankoh made quick promises to the resolution of the crisis but did not keep them,” the Ambassador said, citing the abduction of UN peacekeepers by the RUF in May 2000 as an example.
Prosecutors have insisted — and witnesses have testified — that Mr. Sesay’s appointment as interim leader of the RUF was made by Mr. Taylor because the former Liberian president allegedly had control over the Sierra Leonean rebels. Mr. Taylor has denied these assertions, telling the court that the said appointment was made by a group of ECOWAS leaders including former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, former Togolese president Gnasingbe Eyadema, former Malian president Alpha Oumar Konare and Gambian president Yayah Jammeh. Mr. Sesay in his testimony has corroborated Mr. Taylor’s account. The statement read in court today was one which Ambassador Adeneji provided to Mr. Sesay’s own lawyers when he was on trial in Freetown for his own role in RUF atrocities during the conflict.
Mr. Taylor’s defense lawyer also today read a statement that was made to Mr. Sesay’s lawyers in Freetown by the former Force Commander of UN peacekeepers in Sierra Leone, General Daniel Opande, who said that ECOWAS leaders were looking for a reliable person in the RUF that they would deal with because Mr. Sankoh was not reliable.
“Sankoh was no longer seen as a reliable leader for peace and they [ECOWAS] began to look among the RUF for another leader,” General Opande said.
That search eventually led to the appointment of Mr. Sesay.
Mr. Sesay’s testimony continues tomorrow.