As the cross-examination of Charles Taylor’s 19th defense witness moves into a second week, prosecutors today put to Issa Hassan Sesay that Sierra Leone’s main rebel group was created and supported by Mr. Taylor, an assertion that the witness disputed.
Prosecutors have maintained that the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) was created with substantial support from Mr. Taylor. In addition, prosecutors allege the former president, while he served as leader of his own rebel group, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), helped train RUF fighters in Sierra Leone and equipped them to invade Sierra Leone in March 1991. Prosecutors further accuse Mr. Taylor of meeting RUF leader Foday Sankoh in Libya, and the two men planned the invasion of Liberia and Sierra Leone respectively. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations.
“You know that the RUF was created with the acquiescence and support of Charles Taylor,” prosecution counsel Nicholas Koumjian stated to Mr. Sesay today.
“Well, I cannot explain because I was not there when Mr. Sankoh and Mr. Taylor discussed,” Mr. Sesay responded.
“Most of the RUF fighters I knew at the base [camp where RUF fighters were trained], it was Pa Kallon [Senior adviser to Mr. Sankoh] who took them to the base,” he added.
Mr. Koumjian today read several testimonies from previous witnesses before the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Freetown that explained how the RUF recruited fighters in Liberia. According to Mr. Koumjian, RUF fighters were recruited from among people who had been arrested by NPFL rebels in Liberia. One of the testimonies read in court today was that of Morris Kallon, a former RUF commander who, like Mr. Sesay, has been convicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone judges in Freetown for his role in the Sierra Leonean conflict and is presently serving a 40 year jail sentence in Rwanda. Mr. Kallon explained in his testimony that RUF leaders removed him from the custody of NPFL fighters and took him to the training base at Camp Naama in Liberia. Prosecutors say that such a recruitment drive and training by the RUF inside NPFL territory could not have happened without Mr. Taylor’s knowledge.
Mr. Taylor has denied knowledge of any such activities. When asked about these allegations, Mr. Sesay also told the court that he had no idea that the RUF had recruited fighters from NPFL controlled areas and that Mr. Taylor did not provide any support to the RUF while they underwent training at Camp Naama.
“It was obvious to you that the RUF was created and supported by Charles Taylor, but you just don’t want to say that because you are here to protect Charles Taylor,” Mr. Koumjian told Mr. Sesay.
“No. That is not true. It was Mr. Sankoh who created the RUF. It was Mr. Sankoh who trained the RUF, and he used to tell us that he was supported by his brother Pa Kallon and Pa Kallon told us the same thing at Pendembu,” Mr. Sesay said.
“Mr. Sesay, you are clever, it’s clear to you that none of this could have been done without the consent of Charles Taylor,” Mr. Koumjian put to Mr. Sesay again.
In response, Mr. Sesay said, “Well, if you assess it that way, but I have to believe what Mr. Sankoh told me…but Mr. Sankoh did not tell me that he had links with Mr. Taylor…according to him, he was Mr. Taylor’s friend and he was responsible for his own revolution.”
Mr. Sesay’s account of how and where Mr. Taylor and Mr. Sankoh met, however, contradicted what Mr. Taylor told the court in his testimony in 2009. According to Mr. Taylor, he never met Mr. Sankohin Libya. Mr. Taylor explained in his testimony that when United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO) rebels started attacking the NPFL withsupport from the government of Sierra Leone, he asked to meet the leader of the RUF because he realized the need to collaborate with the RUF to curtail attacks from ULIMO and the Sierra Leone government. Mr. Taylor said that was the first time he met Mr. Sankoh. Mr. Sesay today gave a different story.
When asked to tell the court what Mr. Sankoh told him about how he met Mr. Taylor, Mr. Sesay said, “According to Mr. Sankoh, he said he met Mr. Taylor in Libya and later in Liberia because Mr. Sankoh and his men were also training in Libya.”
Mr. Sesay, however, added, “Mr. Sankoh told us that he was not the leader in Libya, it was Allie Kabbah who was the leader.”
Before the RUF invasion of Sierra Leone in 1991, Mr. Sankoh made a satellite phone call to the BBC where he announced that the RUF will invade Sierra Leone in 90 days if the country’s then leader, Joseph Saidu Momoh, did not step down as president. While Mr. Sesay admitted that Mr. Sankohdid not have a satellite phone at this time, he said he could not tell whether the RUF leader had used the satellite phone that Mr. Taylor was using at that time to communicate with the international media.
When asked whether “Foday Sankoh’s threat, the 90 day ultimatum, was made on Charles Taylor’s satellite phone,” Mr. Sesay said, “I don’t know that.”
Mr. Sesay agreed that the RUF invasion in Sierra Leone was moved to an earlier date in March 1991 because of border clashes that took place between NPFL fighters and Sierra Leone Army (SLA) forces in Bomaru, eastern Sierra Leone. When these clashes between the NPFL and the SLA occurred, the RUF used that opportunity to immediately invade Sierra Leone, Mr. Sesay said. He explained that Mr. Sankoh and other NPFL commanders, including Anthony Menkunagbe and Oliver Varney, brought four trucks that were used to transport RUF fighters from Camp Naama to the Sierra Leone-Liberian border where they entered Bomaru.
Mr. Koumjian also tried to impeach Mr. Sesay’s credibility by pointing out that he lied to the court when he testified that the RUF did not use children under 15 years of age for combat purposes or that the RUF did not force civilians to work in diamond mines.
Mr. Sesay’s cross-examination continues on Tuesday.