Returning to the stand after a brief illness, a former Sierra Leonean rebel leader said his group did not fight battles for former Liberian President, Charles Taylor, in neighboring Guinea and Liberia.
In the trial of Mr. Taylor for his alleged role in war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Sierra Leone during the country’s brutal 11-year war, prosecutors have alleged that Mr. Taylor had control over Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels. From this position of authority, prosecutors say, Mr. Taylor sent RUF rebels to attack a rebel force in his own country – the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) – which was threatening to unseat his government and helping to dislodge the government of former president, Lansana Conte, in neighboring Guinea. Despite an ongoing disarmament process in Sierra Leone at the time, arms and ammunition for these operations were allegedly given to the RUF by Benjamin Yeaten, Mr. Taylor’s Director of Special Security Services (SSS), who was commanding troops against LURD rebels in Lofa County, Liberia. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations.
“Benjamin Yeaten provided the RUF with ammunition to launch these attacks in Guinea and Lofa in Liberia,” prosecution counsel Nicholas Koumjian asserted today.
“No, Benjamin Yeaten did not give me ammunition and I did nor send the RUF to fight in Guinea and Liberia,” Mr. Sesay responded.
In 2008, prosecution witnesses told Special Court for Sierra Leone judges in The Hague that they were part of the RUF fighting force sent to fight in Guinea and Liberia. Mr. Taylor gave orders to Mr. Sesay for the RUF to attack these countries and Mr. Sesay in turn mobilized RUF fighters to cross the Sierra Leonean border into the two countries, the witnesses told the court in 2008.
“Issa Sesay said Charles Taylor informed him that we should give him ground in Guinea so at the time of the disarmament in Sierra Leone, we’ll shift some of the ammunition to Guinea for safe keeping…from there, Issa arranged transportation to Liberia, we met Benjamin Yeaten and he said guys we should get ready for the operation,” one of the prosecution witnesses was quoted as having said in 2008.
“You as interim leader of the RUF were battling the enemies of Charles Taylor in both Liberia and Guinea,” Mr. Koumjian confronted Mr. Sesay.
“I did not fight the enemies of Charles Taylor,” Mr. Sesay said.
Mr. Taylor has maintained that when he cut off dealings with the RUF in 1992, he only had contacts with them again in the late 1990s when he got involved in the peace efforts in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor has said that his only dealings with the RUF in the early 1990s were to help him fight off a rival Liberian rebel group attacking from Sierra Leonean territory. Today, Mr. Koumjian asked Mr. Sesay whether Mr. Taylor requested help from the RUF in the same way he had sought help from the RUF’s leader, Foday Sankoh, in the early 1990s. Mr. Sesay said that was not the case.
“Did Charles Taylor ask you to assist him the same way he had asked Mr. Sankoh?” Mr. Koumjian asked Mr. Sesay.
“No, No. He did not ask me, he could have asked Mr. Sankoh but he did not ask me,” Mr. Sesay responded.
“The RUF [fighters] who went there did so on their own accord,” Mr. Sesay said, prompting a question from Mr. Koumjian as to whether Mr. Sesay was confirming that RUF fighters did indeed cross into neighboring Liberia.
“What I mean, when I asked them [RUF] to disarm, the Vanguards [original RUF fighters trained in Liberia] who refused, crossed over to Liberia. Even Superman [a Liberian RUF commander] went over to Liberia, but to say that I organized men to go over to Liberia, no,” Mr. Sesay said.
On the RUF cross-border attacks in Guinea, Mr. Sesay also insisted that “Mr. Taylor did not give me any operation to attack Guinea.”
“There were cross-border attacks which the Guineans launched and the RUF was repelling them…The Guineans were launching long range missiles which were landing in RUF controlled territories,” he added.
Mr. Sesay also refuted claims that former rebel fighter, Daniel Tamba (otherwise known as “Jungle”), was a member of Mr. Taylor’s SSS assigned to the RUF as Mr. Taylor’s official representative. Several prosecution witnesses have testified that Jungle was Mr. Taylor’s representative to the RUF who moved between Sierra Leone and Liberia with diamonds from RUF rebels to Mr. Taylor, and arms and ammunition from Mr. Taylor to the RUF. Mr. Sesay has dismissed these claims as lies, saying that when Jungle crossed from NPFL territory into Sierra Leone in the early 1990s, he joined the RUF and remained with the Sierra Leonean rebel group until the time of the disarmament in the country.
“As far as I know, Jungle was not an SSS, he was a member of the RUF,” Mr. Sesay told the court.
Mr. Koumjian displayed a list containing the names of SSS members who were assigned to the Executive Mansion as part of Mr. Taylor’s “Presidential Advance Team” and the 9th name on the said list was that of “Daniel Tamba” (Jungle). Mr. Koumjian also displayed a photograph of persons in military fatigue and Mr. Sesay identified the two visible persons in the photograph as SSS Director Mr. Yeaten and Jungle.
When put to him that “[Jungle] was the liaison between Charles Taylor and the RUF,” Mr. Sesay said: “No, Jungle was with the RUF for a long time, he was not a middleman.”
Mr. Sesay’s testimony continues Thursday.