Today, the former interim leader of the Sierra Leonean rebel group that Charles Taylor is accused of providing support for during Sierra Leone’s 11 year civil conflict spent hours disputing the evidence of prosecution witnesses, telling Special Court for Sierra Leone judges in The Hague that members of his rebel group made up stories against Mr. Taylor and that many of them lied because they saw the Special Court for Sierra Leone as a place where they could make money by giving false testimonies.
As he continues to distance Mr. Taylor from the activities of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group in Sierra Leone, Issa Hassan Sesay refuted the evidence of several former RUF fighters. These former fighters, in their testimonies against Mr. Taylor, previously told the Special Court for Sierra Leone judges that, among other things, the former Liberian president received diamonds from RUF commanders, including Mr. Sesay, in return for arms, that it was Mr. Taylor who appointed Mr. Sesay as interim leader of the RUF, and that when RUF rebels abducted UN peacekeepers in Sierra Leone in May 2000, it was Mr. Taylor who mandated Mr. Sesay to release the peacekeepers because the RUF was under his (Mr. Taylor’s) control. Today, Mr. Sesay dismissed these as made-up stories.
Responding to a prosecution witness’s testimony that he made several trips to Monrovia in 2000 during which he secured arms and ammunition from Mr. Taylor, Mr. Sesay told the judges that “this is a made-up story.”
“I know that our RUF people, most of them saw the Special Court as a place to make money, so this is a made up story,” Mr. Sesay said.
A prosecution witness, who testified in 2008, told the court that when RUF leader Foday Sankoh was arrested by the government of Sierra Leone in 2000 following the abduction of peacekeepers by the RUF, Mr. Taylor invited Mr. Sesay to visit Liberia on two occasions in May 2000. The first visit, according to the prosecution witness was because Mr. Taylor wanted to know what had happened to Mr. Sankoh, and the second visit was when Mr. Taylor instructed Mr. Sesay to release the peacekeepers. Mr. Sesay today dismissed these accounts as lies, saying that in the month of May 2000, he only made one visit to Liberia and that during said visit, Mr. Taylor was not concerned about what had happened to Mr. Sankoh but rather was more focused on the release of the peacekeepers.
“This witness is lying because I went to Monrovia once in May to discuss the release of the peacekeepers,” Mr. Sesay told the court.
“So the first time that Mr. Taylor called me, it was to discuss the release of the peacekeepers, it was not about Mr. Sankoh’s arrest in Freetown. That is a lie,” he added.
The prosecution witness in 2008 also told the court that Mr. Taylor told Mr. Sesay in 2000 that he (Taylor) will be made Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) if he secured the release of the peacekeepers. He promised that if Mr. Sesay helped to make this possible by releasing the peacekeepers, he (Taylor) would help the RUF in their struggle to take over Sierra Leone.
When asked today by lead counsel for Mr. Taylor, Courtenay Griffiths, whether Mr. Taylor had suggested “that his appointment as ECOWAS Chairman was dependent on that outcome,” Mr. Sesay said “No, he did not tell me that.”
He also said that Mr. Taylor did not make any promises to him.
Asked again whether Mr. Taylor’s discussion with him was “in a form of a bargain…if you do this for me, I’ll do this for you,” Mr. Sesay said “No.”
“It was not a negotiation, it was not a bargain…to say there were preconditions put down for the release of the peacekeepers, no,” Mr. Sesay said.
“When I went, the way he was speaking to me, he looked unhappy…for me, he brought the understanding that we cannot fight the UN and to hold the peacekeepers will be a problem for the RUF…I had no other option but to release the peacekeepers, because I was trying to avoid other problems,” Mr. Sesay explained.
When asked whether he was going to Monrovia because Mr. Taylor was his boss, Mr. Sesay said “No.”
“Mr. Taylor was not my boss, my boss was Foday Sankoh…Mr. Taylor was never my boss, I had never taken instructions from him,” Mr. Sesay said.
“If any other person had contacted me for the release of the peacekeepers, I wouldn’t have had any other option but to release them,” he added.
Mr. Sesay’s testimony continues on Tuesday.