The trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor today returned to normal hearings after the conclusion of the testimonies of three celebrity witnesses. The former interim leader of the Sierra Leonean rebel group, which Mr. Taylor is accused of providing support for, resumed his testimony and told the Special Court for Sierra Leone judges in The Hague that allegations of his rebel group capturing materials from United Nations peacekeepers in Sierra Leone and sending such materials to Mr. Taylor are false.
In May 2000, as Sierra Leone was getting ready to disarm thousands of rebel fighters, Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels took hundreds of UN peacekeepers hostage and seized several materials including arms, ammunition, vehicles, and communication equipment from the peacekeepers. RUF leader, Foday Sankoh, was arrested by the government of Sierra Leone and Issa Hassan Sesay, after a meeting with Mr. Taylor in Liberia, facilitated the release of the peacekeepers. Mr. Sesay eventually became interim leader of the RUF.
In 2008, a witness who claimed to have been working within Mr. Taylor’s security apparatus in Liberia, testified for the prosecution and told the court that on Mr. Taylor’s instructions, the heavy artillery weapons that were seized from the UN peacekeepers were taken to Liberia by Mr. Sesay, and the weapons were used to provide security for Mr. Taylor. Today, Mr. Sesay described this account as false. According to Mr. Sesay, all materials that were seized from the peacekeepers were given back to the UN in Sierra Leone.
“That did not happen…I did not send any artillery pieces to Mr. Taylor in Liberia,” Mr. Sesay told the court.
“I did not give any instruction to take any UNAMSIL [United Nations Missions in Sierra Leone] weapon to Mr. Taylor in Liberia. The weapons that were captured from them were handed back to the UN before disarmament,” he added.
Mr. Sesay also denied claims that part of the weapons obtained from the peacekeepers included “mortar guns,” which were used by security forces in Mr. Taylor’s presidential convoy in Liberia.
“He is lying because I do not recall that mortars were captured from the peacekeepers. It was BZTs that we captured, and I did not send them to Monrovia,” Mr. Sesay said.
Mr. Sesay further denied prosecution evidence that he provided some help through the transfer of weapons from Sierra Leone to Liberia’s Special Security Services (SSS) Director, Benjamin Yeaten, who was mobilizing forces to attack Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebels. At the time LURD rebels were threatening to unseat Mr. Taylor’s government in Liberia. TFI-375, the witness who testified about this incident claimed that he was present and saw the weapons being handed from Mr. Sesay to Mr. Yeaten.
When talking about the support that Mr. Taylor and his forces allegedly gave to the RUF in Sierra Leone, TFI-375 told the court in 2008 that he was very close to Mr. Yeaten and that he was personally involved in transporting arms and ammunition for rebel forces in Sierra Leone. Mr. Sesay denied this claim, telling the court that he only had contact with Mr. Yeaten in 2000 and at that time, RUF forces were no longer fighting in Sierra Leone.
“During this time when I was in contact with Benjamin Yeaten, the war was not continuing in Sierra Leone, and I did not have any arms dealings with Benjamin Yeaten,” Mr. Sesay said.
“I did not have anybody that was bringing arms and ammunition for me from Benjamin Yeaten, that is not true,” he added.
Witness TFI-375 also told the court that when the RUF arrested the peacekeepers in 2000, it was Mr. Sesay who first contacted Mr. Yeaten to seek advise from Mr. Taylor on how to handle the situation. Mr. Sesay said that this never happened.
“That’s a lie, I did not talk to Benjamin Yeaten on satellite phone, and I did not send a radio message to Benjamin Yeaten after the capture of the UN peacekeepers,” Mr. Sesay said.
According to Mr. Sesay, after the capture of the UN peacekeepers, Mr. Taylor sent Mr. Yeaten to invite him to Liberia where they discussed the release of the peacekeepers. If he had communicated with Mr. Yeaten by satellite phone or radio, there would have been no need for Mr. Taylor to send Mr. Yeaten to fetch him with a helicopter, he said.
Mr. Sesay’s testimony continues tomorrow.