Significant shipments of weapons, intended for use by rebels in Sierra Leone's 11-year civil conflict, could have been transported through Liberia without Charles Taylor's knowledge, the accused former Liberian president told Special Court for Sierra Leone judges today at his trial in The Hague.
"It is possible that significant amounts of arms could come into Liberia without my consent. With the level of corruption in the country, it is possible. I don't run the airports or the roads," he told the judges.
Mr. Taylor was responding to allegations that he transported arms and ammunition from Libya and Burkina Faso for onward transfer to Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations.
In his testimony today, Mr. Taylor explained that when these allegations against him were made, he took steps to make sure that no such arms were transported through Liberia. His accusers, he said, had no evidence to prove these allegations.
"They could not show us what was coming in. We were as diligent as we could be. If they had the evidence, they could have confronted us with it," Mr. Taylor said. "If anyone thinks that anything coming into Liberia is with the knowledge of Taylor, then I am already guilty."
Mr. Taylor explained that even in the United States where "you have the best security network," the terrorists who launched the September 11, 2001 attacks were able to enter the country and wreak havoc without being detected by the United States intelligence.
"When it comes to these small countries therefore, lots of things could happen," he said.
Mr. Taylor said that when his government was attacked by the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) rebels in 1998, he asked the United Nations to lift its arms embargo on Liberia. When the UN refused, his government ordered loads of arms and ammunition to defend the country. Afterwards, he informed the UN of the list of arms that they had bought and the purpose for which they would be used.
Reinforcing his point that arms could have been transported through Liberia without his consent, Mr. Taylor said that the arms and ammunition that were bought by the Liberian government to fight against LURD rebels were transported through European countries without the consent of their respective governments.
"We imported arms from Europe, these European countries were bound by Chapter VII of the UN Charter. They[arms] stopped in these countries but the governments did not know and they got to Liberia," Mr Taylor said. "If you have a little bit of money, and you want to move weapons, I don't care what resolution is passed, you will move weapons including through the best of the countries you can imagine and use some of their own companies to do it."
Mr. Taylor said that the same thing could have happened in Liberia when individuals or groups could have transported arms into the country and transferred the arms to rebel forces in Sierra Leone. All this, Mr. Taylor said, could have happened without his knowledge or consent.
"So the fact is that something can come into Roberts International Airport [Liberia's main airport], the president in Monrovia doing what he's got to do, if sufficient contacts are made at that airport, those things would come into the airport, if its weapons, of course. With sufficient money, you can bribe the officials and the weapons can be brought in at a time, it can happen anywhere," he said.
Mr. Taylor also told the judges that at the relevant times that he is accused of transporting arms and ammunition to rebel forces in Sierra Leone, the main roads linking Liberia to Sierra Leone were occupied by other rebel groups who were fighting against his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL).
"When we look at the period of occupation as from 1991 up to my election in 1997, ULIMO had control of the very position. LURD attacked in 1998 and up to 2001, they made significant gains," Mr. Taylor said. "As of August 2001 to 2002, LURD is occupying the very position that ULIMO occupied earlier. They know the strategic nature of occupying this area."
Mr. Taylor is accused of providing support for RUF rebels in Sierra Leone through the supply of arms and ammunition in return for diamonds. Several witnesses have testified to the transfer of arms and ammunition from Liberia to Sierra Leone with Mr. Taylor's knowledge and participation. Mr. Taylor has denied these allegations.
Mr. Taylor's testimony continues tomorrow.