Today, a Liberian member of Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group commenced his testimony as the final defense witness for former Liberian president Charles Taylor.
The witness, Sam Flomo Kolleh, in his testimony spoke about several issues including his background, how he was abducted by rebel forces in Liberia during that country’s civil conflict, his participation in the war in Sierra Leone, and the actions of the RUF in securing ammunition from the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy(ULIMO) rebel group, a former rival armed faction to Mr. Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebel group. The witness also refuted the evidence of prosecution witnesses about Mr. Taylor’s alleged association with RUF rebels in Sierra Leone.
Speaking about his background, Mr. Kolleh said that he was a university student in Liberia when Mr. Taylor’s NPFL rebel group invaded the country in 1989. On a day when he went out to look for food, he said he was “intercepted by NPFL rebels” and after spending about two months with the group’s commander called Arthur, he was later taken to Camp Naama where he underwent military training with the RUF. The training, he said was conducted at a portion of Camp Naama called “Crab Hole.” Many other witnesses have testified about being trained by the RUF at “Crab Hole.”
After the training, the witness said he invaded Sierra Leone in 1991 together with other RUF fighters.
Speaking of their movement into Sierra Leone, Mr. Kolleh said, “It was one morning that they brought a truck and I was on board the second truck.”
“The second truck went straight to Bomi Hills and then to Bo Waterside. On the 3rd of April , we entered into Sierra Leone,” he said.
When asked what prompted the RUF fighters to leave Camp Naama for Sierra Leone at the time they did, the witness explained that the RUF’s leader, Foday Sankoh, was subjected to arrest by NPFL Special Forces because he was training men to fight in Sierra Leone without their knowledge.
“We were on the base [Camp Naama] at one time one Anthony, one Special Forces Anthony Menkunagbe, arrested Foday Sankoh…that they heard that he’s training people to go to Sierra Leone …and Sankoh tried to deny, he was put under house arrest for nearly three to four, five hours and I don’t know, we were all asked to fall out, to leave the area,” Mr. Kolleh said.
He added, “After that, we were hurriedly ordered to leave by Sankoh.”
Mr. Kolleh explained that when the RUF invaded Sierra Leone in 1991, the group comprised of both Sierra Leoneans and Liberians, but after some disagreement between the rebels from both Sierra Leone and Liberia, those from Liberia were forcefully driven out of the country and returned to Liberia.
When asked why he had been allowed to stay with the RUF in Sierra Leone even though he was a Liberian, the witness said, “I am a Liberian but I was trained directly by Foday Sankoh.”
“These people were not trained by Sankoh, and so we did not allow them to stay in our midst,” he added.
He said that other Liberians who were allowed to stay with the RUF in Sierra Leone included Rocky CO, Monica Pearson, Fatu Gbemo, Napan Weawea, Base Marine, Isaac Mongo, Pa Moriba, and Jungle.
Prosecutors have made several allegations including that Mr. Taylor helped to train RUF rebels at Camp Naama in Liberia before they invaded Sierra Leone in 1991 and that while in Sierra Leone, the rebels received substantial support such as supply of arms and ammunition from Mr. Taylor.
Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations.
On the issue of arms and ammunition, Mr. Kolleh testified that sometime in 1996, the RUF, through one of its main commanders, Sam Bockarie, travelled to Liberia and bought ammunition from ULIMO rebels who had been fighting against Mr. Taylor in Liberia.
The ammunition that was brought from ULIMO was transported by some RUF bodyguards from Liberia to Sierra Leone. This, he said, happened in his presence. The witness also identified a copy of a group photograph taken with Mr. Bockarie and the bodyguards who went to collect the ammunition from ULIMO.
After this initial purchase, the witness said that “some ULIMO fighters were bringing ammunition individually…this was just individuals bringing ammunition and given compensation for it.”
He said that “some even crossed from ULIMO and joined the RUF.” Those ULIMO fighters who joined the RUF included Abu Keita, who later became a commander in the RUF and testified against Mr. Taylor in The Hague in 2008, telling the court that it was Mr. Taylor who sent him to join the RUF.
The witness also refuted allegations by the prosecution that it was the RUF that invaded Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown in January 1999.
Mr. Kolleh said that the invasion of Freetown was solely undertaken by members of the Sierra Leone Army (SLA), who had been forced out of power by West African peacekeepers after they had overthrown the democratic government of Sierra Leone in 1997.
The witness explained that the RUF had its independent plan to invade Freetown, and RUF commander Mr. Bockarie had given instructions to other RUF commanders Rambo, Issa Sesay, and Morris Kallon to attack Freetown. The RUF forces, he said, could not enter Freetown.
“No RUF forces entered Freetown in January 1999,” the witness said.
Prosecutors claim that the arms and ammunition used by the RUF to attack Freetown were provided by Mr. Taylor as part of a grand plan to take control of the country’s mining towns and the capital. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations.
When put to him that RUF commander Mr. Bockarie was on BBC telling the world that his men had entered Freetown in January 1999, Mr. Kolleh said that “he [Bockarie] was just a flamboyant person…his forces were not in Freetown.”
Mr. Kolleh’s evidence continues on Wednesday.