A former Sierra Leonean rebel leader testifying for Charles Taylor today told the Special Court for Sierra Leone judges in The Hague that all the discussions he had with the former Liberian president focused mainly on how to bring the conflict in Sierra Leone to an end.
Issa Hassan Sesay, a former interim leader of the Revolutionary Unit Front (RUF) who has been convicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone for his role in the Sierra Leone conflict and who now is serving a 52 year jail sentence in Rwanda, has spent more than two weeks testifying for Mr. Taylor. In his testimony today, Mr. Sesay gave credence to a regular theme that was prevalent in Mr. Taylor’s own testimony: that Mr. Taylor was a peacemaker and his involvement with rebel forces in Sierra Leone was solely to bring an end to the conflict in that country.
When asked today by a defense lawyer for Mr. Taylor, Silas Chikera what the nature of his discussions with Mr. Taylor were in the year 2000, Mr. Sesay had this to say:
“All the discussion I had with Charles Taylor in 2000 was about peace in Sierra Leone, and it is in those discussions that peace started and that’s why peace returned to Sierra Leone.”
Mr. Taylor has long maintained that he only had dealings with RUF rebels because he was working with the leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to bring peace to Sierra Leone. Prosecutors on the other hand have said that Mr. Taylor was in control of the rebel group and that in his regular meetings with RUF commanders in Liberia, he received diamonds from the rebels, gave them arms and ammunition for use in Sierra Leone, and helped them to plan certain operations that led to the commission of crimes against the civilian population of the country. According to prosecutors, when Mr. Sesay became leader of the RUF, Mr. Taylor instructed him not to allow the RUF to be disarmed by United Nations peacekeepers. Mr. Taylor has denied these assertions. Today, Mr. Sesay told the court that the allegations are lies because Mr. Taylor was a peacemaker.
“Mr. Taylor was concerned about the disarmament in Sierra Leone and the commitment of the RUF…Even Mr. Taylor was one of the ECOWAS leaders who brokered peace in Sierra Leone,” Mr. Sesay told the court.
Mr. Sesay also refuted the testimony of a previous prosecution witness Abu Keita, who in 2008 told the court that on the instructions of Mr. Taylor, Mr. Sesay asked RUF fighters to attack Guinea with the aim of unseating that country’s president, the late Lansana Conte. Mr. Keita told the court that he was among those who were sent to attack Guinea. Mr. Sesay denied this account, saying instead that the the RUF only entered into Guinea when they repelled Guinean forces who had attacked RUF positions in Sierra Leone.
When asked by Mr. Chikera why the RUF had to go into Guinean territory, Mr. Sesay said, “It was to ensure that the Guineans did not attack RUF position and they had been doing it from 1998.”
“The Guineans had been crossing and attacking RUF positions in 1998 and the RUF had been in Kailahun since 1991 and they never crossed into Guinea but the Guineans started attacking RUF positions from  98 up to 2000…When they returned to Guinea, RUF chased them there,” Mr. Sesay said.
Mr. Sesay dismissed as lies, claims by Mr. Keita when he testified for the prosecution that Mr. Sesay sent him and some men to attack Guinea.
“I did not send Abu Keita or any other person to attack Guinea. He is lying. That is a lie,” Mr. Sesay told the court.
Mr. Sesay told the court that Mr. Keita had made up stories against Mr. Taylor because the Prosecutor had made promises to send him and his family abroad and to give him some money for his testimony. He said when the Prosecutor had not honoured his promise, Mr. Keita had threatened to take legal action against the Prosecutor in the Sierra Leonean courts. Mr. Sesay said he read about Mr. Keita’s threat of court action in the Sierra Leonean newspapers while he (Sesay) was in detention in Sierra Leone.
Mr. Sesay’s testimony continues on Tuesday. On Monday, Hollywood actress Mia Farrow and Naomi Campbell’s former agent Carole White will take the witness stand to testify about allegations that Mr. Taylor gave Ms. Campbell a gift of rough diamonds in South Africa in 1997. Ms. Campbell herself testified about the incident yesterday.