20 January 2010

Liberia: Charles Taylor Denies Sending Fighters To Destabilize Ivory Coast

Charles Taylor did not send fighters to destablize neighbouring Ivory Coast, the accused former Liberian president told Special Court for Sierra Leone judges today.

Mr. Taylor, who stands accused of supporting rebel forces in Sierra Leone, was responding to prosecution allegations that he had an agenda to destabilize the West African sub-region by not only supporting Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in Sierra Leone, but that he also gave similar support to other rebel forces in the Ivory Coast. Lead prosecutor, Brenda Hollis, today read several reports in court which alleged that Mr. Taylor did send fighters to Ivory Coast in support of rebel groups in that country. Mr. Taylor dismissed all the reports as “totally incorrect.”

Reading from a May 2005 Frontline World news interview with Mr. Taylor’s former defense minister Daniel Cheah, Ms. Hollis quoted Mr. Cheah as saying that “On the Ivorian issue, when I realised that militia forces from Liberia were involved, I talked to him [Mr. Taylor] one day… and I said ‘Look, before going into an area, you must have an objective, either military or political, and in this case, we have none. We have our own issues, we are under attack by LURD [Liberians United for Reconciliation and Development] forces.’ And he said to me, ‘Well, Dan, sometimes there are things that you do not understand. There are too many things happening in this region, and sometimes you can be consumed, and you can be assured that whatever it is will get under control.’”

Mr. Taylor dismissed the news report as “untrue.”

“That is not right. This is an interview. No one knows who conducted the interview, no one knows this paper. My minister of defense, knowing that I was fighting a war, could not have said this to me,” Mr. Taylor said.

Ms. Hollis also read a portion of the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) report in which it is stated that “October 21, 2002: The incursion by Benjamin Yeaten, Joe Tuah, Edward Zarmey, Joe Walloe, Osebeo Dehmin, and Mathew Karn into Ivory Coast on the mandate of Charles Taylor. The purpose of the incursion was to act as mercenaries for Philip Doh. A number of people died in the operation, including those who refused to sign on.”

Mr. Taylor also dismissed the TRC’s findings as untrue, saying that it is merely somebody’s opinion.

“That’s total nonsense. Totally incorrect. This is an opinion of somebody that has not been tested in this court. Totally incorrect,” he said.

Also read in court by Ms. Hollis was an April 2003 report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) which revealed that after the assassination of the Ivory Coast’s former military ruler, Robert Guei, Mr. Taylor sent fighters to assist Mr. Guei’s supporters who had promised to revenge the former military ruler’s death.

“At least 500 fighters from Mr. Taylor’s former NPFL [National Patriotic Front of Liberia] rebel group, from the Sierra Leone RUF and ‘able bodied men and women trained in Nimba County, apparently crossed into Danane to join fighters that had been loyal to General Guei. Liberians in Nimba County reportedly saw Taylor’s commanders Benjamen Yeaten and Roland Duo take truckloads of Liberian fighters recruited in Nimba County to Danene late at night every week following Guei’s death,” the report said.

In his response to the ICG report, Mr. Taylor said that “I diasgree with everything you have read here. I disagree with this… it is warped. It is totally incorrect, everything that you have read.”

Ms. Hollis further read from the 2003 United Nations Panel of Experts report in which it was alleged that rebel forces in Ivory Coast admitted that they had received support from Mr. Taylor.

“Political leaders of the forces nouvelle acknowledged to the panel that they had asked for and received support from Charles Taylor,” the UN Expert’s report read.

Mr. Taylor again dismissed the contents of the report as “totally incorrect.”

While Mr. Taylor is being tried for his alleged support to RUF rebel forces in Sierra Leone, prosecutors have sought to establish that Mr. Taylor had a policy to destabilize the West African sub-region by supporting rebel groups in various countries including in Ivory Coast. To establish that Mr. Taylor’s activities in Sierra Leone were of a consistent pattern, prosecutors have tried to lead evidence on his alleged activities in Ivory Coast, arguing that it was similar to that of his alleged support to RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor has maintained that his involvement in these countries was merely to enhance peace in the sub-region. Ms. Hollis said otherwise.

“Mr. Taylor, in the Ivory Coast, while you were publicly presenting yourself as working for peace, you were in fact involved in escalating and continuing the conflict in Ivory Coast…And in fact Mr. Taylor, that is similar to your approach regarding Sierra Leone, isn’t it?” Ms. Hollis asked Mr. Taylor.

Mr. Taylor responded that “that is not correct.”

Also in his cross-examination today, Mr. Taylor dismissed suggestions that he ordered the execution of RUF commander Sam Bockarie because he knew that Mr. Bockarie had been indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone and he did not want Mr. Bockarie in the hands of the court.

While denying that he ordered the execution of Mr. Bockarie, Mr. Taylor also insisted that at the time of Mr. Bockarie’s death in 2003, he did not know that Mr. Bockarie had been indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Ms. Hollis read news reports which revealed that as of March 10, 2003, seven people had been indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone and this included Mr. Bockarie. Mr. Taylor insisted that he did not hear the news reports.

“I did not hear the announcement,” Mr. Taylor said.

“With all due respect counsel, I was not aware of the list of people that had been indicted,” the former president added.

Ms. Hollis also read a BBC news article which indicated that after the arrests of some people who had been indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, a public request was also made that any government in the possession of two accused persons who remained at large, including Mr. Bockarie, were to be handed over to the court. Mr. Taylor also maintained that he was not aware of the request.

“Truthfully, I was not aware.”

Mr. Taylor is responding to charges that he was involved in a joint criminal enterprise with RUF rebels in Sierra Leone. Mr. Taylor has denied allegations that he supplied arms and ammunition to the rebels in return for Sierra Leone’s blood diamonds and that he helped them plan certain operations during which atrocities such as rape, murder and amputation of civilian arms were committed. From July 14 to November 10, 2009, Mr. Taylor testified in direct-examination as a witness in his own defense.

Mr. Taylor’s cross-examination continues tomorrow.

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