22 July 2009

Liberia: Taylor Was Too Busy With Issues In Liberia and Could Not Pay Attention to Events in Sierra Leone

Charles Taylor was occupied with events in Liberia in the early 1990s and could not have had time to support rebel forces and regulate what was happening in Sierra Leone, he told judges today during his testimony at the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

Mr. Taylor said that when rebels attacked Sierra Leone in March 1991, he was busy holding discussions with West African leaders in Senegal geared towards the cessation of hostilities in Liberia and therefore could not have been planning an attack on Sierra Leone.

"At the time of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) invasion of Sierra Leone, I was busy with peace meetings but the prosecution has me busy planning and supporting the RUF in Sierra Leone," Taylor told the judges.

The prosecution has alleged that Mr. Taylor was involved in planning the invasion of Sierra Leone in 1991 and that in subsequent years, he supported the rebels through the supply of arms and ammunition, and that by his acts or omissions, he bears responsibility for crimes committed by the RUF in Sierra Leone.

Mr. Taylor denied allegations of any such support to RUF rebels. "This is total nonsense. I am not interested in Sierra Leone," Mr. Taylor said.

Mr. Taylor has admitted that he had dealings with the RUF between August 1991 to May 1992 when he collaborated with them to fight against another rebel group, United Liberation Movement for Democracy in Liberia (ULIMO) who were attacking NPFL positions in Liberia from Sierra Leone. He has said that he severed all relationship with the RUF in May 1992 when his NPFL rebels guarding the Liberia-Sierra Leone border were attacked by RUF rebels. Asked by his defense counsel Courtenay Griffiths when last he had contact with RUF leader Foday Sankoh, Mr. Taylor responded that "my last dealing with Sankoh was way back in 1992. I really would not have cared about what was going on in Sierra Leone.  I was busy.  The only time Sierra Leone became an issue for me was in 1996."

Mr. Taylor admitted that while he maintained a relationship with the RUF between 1991 and 1992, there were exchange of arms and ammunition as gifts between his NPFL and Sankoh's RUF, diamonds were never part of those gifts. The prosecution has alleged that diamonds mined in Kono by the RUF were given to Taylor in exchange for arms and ammunition. While denying this allegation,Taylor admitted that there was an exchange of arms and ammunition between the NPFL and the RUF, such as Sankoh's gift to him of a 155 millimeter Houwitza gun, which was captured from enemy forces in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor emphasized that theses gifts were purely for security purposes in their fight against a common enemy, ULIMO.

Mr. Taylor denied  prosecution allegations of his involvement in a 1996 RUF operation to stop elections in Sierra Leone code named Operation Stop Elections.  "I did not order the RUF to carry out any such campaign.  I could have never ordered such a thing.  I did not care about what was going on in Sierra Leone, and don't forget, we are preparing for disarmament in 1996 to begin to put our government into place.  People that I have cut off relationship with in 1992, what business is it of mine, how do I do that?  I had nothing to do with the RUF after the break-up in 1992," he said.

Mr. Taylor dismissed as nonsense an NPFL command structure chart presented by the prosecution, which put RUF leader Foday Sankoh as Military Adviser to the NPFL leader, Charles Taylor. "Total false. What will Foday Sankoh be doing as Military Adviser to me? What advice can he give me? This is total nonsense," he told the judges.  Mr. Taylor presented his own chart of the NPFL command structure, which names current Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleef as International Coordinator for the NPFL from 1986 to 1994.

Mr. Taylor's testimony continues tomorrow.

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