Sierra Leonean rebels bought arms and ammunition from top Liberian security personnel to help fuel the brutal 11-year conflict in the West African nation — but Charles Taylor did not know about it, according to a former Sierra Leonean rebel leader.
Issa Sesay, formerly a leader in Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group, said today that another top commander in his group, Sam Bockarie, bought arms and ammunition from Mr. Taylor’s top security personnel, including Benjamin Yeatean — a close associate of Mr. Taylor and the former Director of the country’s Special Security Services (SSS). But this did not mean Mr. Taylor knew about it, according to Mr. Sesay.
“Did Bockarie say whether or not these purchases were with the knowledge and permission of Charles Taylor?” Mr. Taylor’s lead defense counsel, Courtenay Griffiths, asked Mr. Sesay this morning.
“The answer is no. Bockarie did not tell me that Mr. Taylor knew about the purchase of those ammunition,” Mr. Sesay responded.
“What was the quantity of ammunition purchased by Bockarie?” Mr. Griffiths asked.
“The AK rounds were up to 40 boxes, and the G3 round, I think it was about 15 boxes and the HMG rounds were about 10 boxes,” Mr. Sesay said.
Mr. Taylor has long maintained that he did not have arms and ammunition for his own military and so it was not possible for him to have supplied them to the RUF. Prosecutors maintain that the former Liberia president and his associates, including Mr. Yeaten, provided support to the rebel forces in Sierra Leone through the supply of arms and ammunition in return for diamonds.
Prosecutors also allege that RUF rebels attacked Sierra Leone’s diamond rich town of Kono with Mr. Taylor’s support. They claim that in addition to providing arms and ammunition, Mr. Taylor also provided personnel, led by a man called Senegalese, who provided assistance to the rebels in their attack on Kono. Prosecution witnesses have testified that Senegalese arrived with Liberian personnel sent by Mr. Taylor at the RUF headquarters in Kailahun in 1998, ahead of the rebel attack on Kono. Mr. Taylor has denied these claims and today, Mr. Sesay told the court that Mr. Taylor never sent men to help them in their attack on Sierra Leone’s diamond fields.
“Did Charles Taylor send a force of Liberians under the command of a man called Senegalese to assist the RUF attack on Kono? Mr. Griffiths asked Mr. Sesay.
“No. Not at all,” Mr. Sesay responded.
Mr. Sesay explained that Senegalese had strong links to the RUF and that he had been in Sierra Leone since 1997 — having come to the country with another RUF commander Mike Lamin — during which time he lived in different parts of the country with different RUF commanders.
“So in 1997, when Mike Lamin came, he came with Senegalese and from that time, Senegalese was with Sam Bockarie in Kenema, he even withdrew with Sam Bockarie to Kailahun in 1998,” Mr. Sesay explained.
“Senegalese was with Superman until December  and he went to Makeni with Superman, they met me there. So Senegalese was in Sierra Leone from 1997 up to the time of this invasion,” Mr. Sesay said, referring to the January 1999 invasion of Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown.
Mr. Sesay also refuted claims that the RUF and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC)- a group of disgruntled Sierra Leonean soldiers who overthrew the elected government of Sierra Leone in 1997 — were involved in a joint criminal enterprise when rebel forces invade Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown in 1999. Mr. Sesay insisted that the 1999 invasion of Freetown was entirely an action taken by AFRC forces and that the RUF had no involvement in it. He denied suggestions that when the AFRC forces were committing atrocities in Freetown in 1999, they were taking orders from RUF commanders.
“The RUF was not in control of the AFRC during the attack on Freetown. It was not a common plan, nor was it a common purpose…because if you look at the reality at that time, they were separate operations,” Mr. Sesay told the court.
“The planning and execution was an individual plan by the AFRC. It was not a plan by the RUF because the RUF was not part of the army,” he added.
Mr. Sesay’s testimony continues on Monday.