As the trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor resumed today, the much-anticipated testimony of supermodel Naomi Campbell was delayed until Thursday next week, August 5. Meanwhile, a former Sierra Leonean rebel leader returned to the witness stand today and said that his appointment as the top rebel was made by a group of West African leaders – not by Mr. Taylor alone, as prosecutors have alleged.
Before last week’s judicial recess, prosecutors had asked the Special Court for Sierra Leone’s judges to reschedule Ms. Campbell’s testimony from the end of this week to a later date. (Judges had previously issued a subpoena for Ms. Campbell to testify on July 29 regarding allegations that she received rough diamonds from Mr. Taylor after they had both attended a star-studded dinner in September 1997 in South Africa). When court resumed today, prosecution counsel Nicholas Koumjian told the judges that Ms. Campbell’s representatives have made a written request for the supermodel’s appearance to take place a week later.
“There is an outstanding court order for her [Campbell] to appear on the 29th of July. A communication has been received by, I believe, the court, that they are requesting a modification of the order to the 5th of August. The prosecution has no problem with that, so we would request that the date of appearance be modified to 5 August, for Ms. Campbell,” Mr. Koumjian asked the judges.
After consulting her colleagues, presiding judge of the Trial Chamber Justice Julia Sebutinde granted the prosecution’s request.
“We can only say that the leave is granted and the date is postponed accordingly for her appearance, with the hope that it would not be postponed yet again,” Justice Sebutinde said.
Issa Hassan Sesay, the former interim leader of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group, then took the witness stand to resume his testimony as a defense witness for Mr. Taylor, who is responding to allegations that he had control over and provided support to RUF rebels during Sierra Leone’s 11 years civil conflict.
Mr. Sesay today denied claims that he was appointed as leader of the RUF in May 2000 by Mr. Taylor (a claim that the former Liberian president has also denied). According to Mr. Sesay, his appointment as leader of the RUF was made by West African leaders at a meeting in Liberia. He said that the West African leaders told him that working with the RUF leader, Foday Sankoh, to bring the Sierra Leonean conflict to an end had become impossible. The leaders present at the meeting were Mr. Taylor, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, former Togolese president Gnassingbe Eyadema, former Malian presiden Alpha Oumar Konare and Gambian president Yayah Jammeh, Mr. Sesay said.
Mr. Sesay explained that “…during that meeting, the Heads of States spoke one after another but the main thrust of their discussion was that they were the moral guarantors of the Lome Peace Accord [peace agreement between the RUF and the Sierra Leone government] and that they were no longer able to work with Foday Sankoh.”
“President Obasanjo asked Mr. Taylor that the time you were negotiating the release of the peacekeepers, ‘who did you speak with?’ and Mr. Taylor said it was this young man sitting here. And Obasanjo said ‘well it seems like Issa is someone who listens to people so do you think we should give him the leadership?’ and Mr. Taylor said ‘yes, Issa is a man that listens to people’,” Mr. Sesay said.
The other West African leaders at the meeting agreed to the suggestion that Mr. Sesay be made leader of the RUF, Mr. Sesay said.
According to Mr. Sesay, he insisted that Mr. Sankoh be consulted on the matter. He then wrote a letter which the West African leaders took to Mr. Sankoh (who was then in the custody of Sierra Leone government). Mr. Sankoh wanted another RUF commander, Mike Lamin, to be given the RUF leadership but according to Mr. Sesay, the West African leaders insisted that Mr. Sesay was the person with whom they were prepared to work.
At a second meeting that was held at the Roberts International Airport (RIA) in Monrovia, the West African leaders informed Mr. Sesay that they had got support from other West African leaders — including Sierra Leone’s president Ahmed Tejan Kabbah –that he (Sesay) was to become leader of the RUF. The following day, a helicopter flew Mr. Sesay from Monrovia to the Liberian town of Foya, before he proceeded to Sierra Leone.
Prosecutors have long maintained that it was Mr. Taylor who appointed Mr. Sesay as leader of the RUF. This, prosecutors say points to the control that Mr. Taylor had over the Sierra Leonean rebels. Prosecution witnesses have also testified that it was Mr. Taylor who made Mr. Sesay leader of the RUF and that on his return to Sierra Leone via Foya, Mr. Taylor had given Mr. Sesay supplies of arms and ammunition which were dropped at Foya by the same helicopter that Mr. Sesay had used, and were then transported to Sierra Leone. Mr. Sesay today described these accounts as false.
“Were you appointed leader of the RUF by Charles Taylor alone?” Courtenay Griffiths, lead defense lawyer for Mr. Taylor asked Mr. Sesay.
“No. In fact, it was Obsanjo who brought about the idea,” Mr. Sesay responded.
When asked whether he returned to Sierra Leone with a consignment of arms and ammunition, Mr. Sesay said “no, not at all.”
The former rebel leader insisted that Mr. Taylor never at any point gave him arms and ammunition to be taken to Sierra Leone.
Mr. Sesay’s testimony continues tomorrow.