An alleged operation which aimed to free the leader of Sierra Leone’s main rebel leader from jail was not planned in cahoots with Charles Taylor in Liberia, but was instead a series of independent attacks planned by Sierra Leonean rebel forces themselves and disconnected from their leader’s incarceration, the Special Court for Sierra Leone heard today.
Issa Sesay, a defense witness for Mr. Taylor who is serving a 52 year sentence for his own role in the 11-year Sierra Leone conflict, continues to distance Mr. Taylor from the activities of his rebel force, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). In his testimony today, Mr. Sesay dismissed prosecution allegations that the RUF’s “Operation Free The Leader” – a plan to attack Kono and Makeni towns before the capital Freetown to put pressure on the government to release their leader, Fodah Sankoh — was devised in the Liberian capital Monrovia with Mr. Taylor’s involvement.
In 2008, a protected prosecution witness had testified that top RUF commander, Sam Bockarie, had met with Mr. Taylor in Monrovia in 1998. Mr Bockarie had told his troops upon his return that the former Liberian president had hatched the plan, the witness had told the court. The prosecution witness had also said that the attack on Kono was to be lead by Mr. Sesay (the current witness), the Makeni attack was to be led by RUF commander Superman, while the final attack on the Sierra Leonean capital, Freetown, was to be spearheaded by former Sierra Leonean soldier, Soloman Anthony James Musa (SAJ Musa) from the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC).
Today, Mr. Sesay, who has admitted that he led the attack on Kono, told court that the prosecution witness had lied about Mr. Taylor’s involvement.
“The decision to attack Kono, Mr. Sesay, was that designed by Charles Taylor?” Lead defense lawyer for Mr. Taylor, Courtenay Griffiths asked Mr. Sesay.
“No, not at all. It was a mission planned by Sam Bockarie at the meeting we held at Waterworks [a place in Kailahun, an eastern Sierra Leonean town] and he never said that the plan was designed by Charles Taylor,” Mr. Sesay said.
When told by Mr. Griffiths that the prosecution witness had told the court that “the decision to attack Kono, Makeni and Freetown was planned in Monrovia, brought to Sierra Leone by Sam Bockarie and Sam Bockarie gave the order to SAJ Musa to lead the Freetown leg of the operation,” Mr. Sesay responded that “this is a bloody lie.”
“Did Sam Bockarie send a message to SAJ Musa giving him the role of moving to Freetown?” Mr. Griffiths asked Mr. Sesay.
“No, not at all,” Mr. Sesay responded.
“The attack on Freetown was an AFRC affair and before December 1998, Sam Bockarie and SAJ Musa were not even talking to each other.”
The prosecution witness who testified in 2008 told the court that when SAJ Musa refused to take instructions from the RUF’s Mr. Bockarie about the implementation of the operation, the RUF commander made a complaint to Mr. Taylor. The witness had also stated that Mr. Taylor had control over both fighting groups who had joined forces in Sierra Leone – the RUF and the AFRC.
“Do you recall Sam Bockarie making such a complaint to Mr. Taylor about SAJ Musa’s refusal to take instructions for this operation?” Mr. Griffiths asked Mr. Sesay.
“No. This is my first time hearing about this issue…until December 98 when SAJ Musa died, they never had any business of operation,” Mr. Sesay said.
Mr. Sesay denied the assertion that an operation code named “Operation Free the Leader” had even been planned at a meeting of RUF commanders.
“I do not recall any operation we named “Operation Free the Leader”…you know that sometimes when you carry out any successful operation, fighters will give it any kind of name but to say that we named any operation or Bockarie planned Operation Free the Leader, no,” Mr. Sesay explained.
According to Mr. Sesay, the plan that was discussed at the Waterworks meeting had nothing to do with Mr. Sankoh or a plan to attack Freetown. The said meeting focused mainly on the attack on Kono, Mr. Sesay told the court.
“We did not have any discussions about Mr. Sankoh and we did not have any discussions about attacking Freetown during that meeting. The only thing that was discussed at the meeting was attacking Kono,” Mr. Sesay said.
He dismissed as lies the assertion that after the meeting, Mr. Bockarie called Mr. Taylor and briefed him about the plan.
Mr. Sesay insisted that Mr. Taylor had no involvement in the plan which focused mainly on attacking Kono.
Mr. Taylor is currently on trial for his alleged role in 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law.
Mr. Sesay’s testimony continues on Wednesday.