Thursday, July 8, 2010

Charles Taylor, RUF Leader Testifies

A former Sierra Leonean rebel leader today again took pains to distance Charles Taylor from a shipment of weapons that prosecutors say was bought with the same batch of diamonds as those he allegedly gave to supermodel Naomi Campbell after a star-studded dinner in South Africa in 1997.
On his third day of testimony, Issa Sesay -- the former interim leader of Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front (RUF)- today tied Libyan leader Muamarr Ghadaffi, RUF leader Foday Sankoh, Commander in Chief (CIC) of the Burkinabe Army, General Diendere, and Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) leader, Johnny Paul Koroma, to the flight full of arms and ammunition which landed in northern Sierra Leone in late 1997.

Prosecutors have alleged that RUF/AFRC fighters gave Mr. Taylor rough diamonds for sale and to use the proceeds to purchase arms and ammunition for them during his 1997 trip to South Africa. Prosecutors say that part of those diamonds were given to supermodel Ms. Campbell for whom a subpoena has been issued to testify in The Hague in three weeks' time, on July 29. Today, one of the men at the forefront of RUF activities in Sierra Leone said that prosecution allegations are false.

"It was Mr. Sankoh who paid for the arms and ammunition, it was Johnny Paul Koroma who paid for its transportation," Mr. Sesay told the court today.

"Was it not Charles Taylor who paid for them with diamonds he had taken to South Africa?" Mr. Taylor's lead defense counsel, Courtenay Griffiths, asked Mr. Sesay.

"No. It was Mr. Sankoh who paid for them. At that time, Mr. Sankoh and Mr. Taylor did not even have any contact," Mr. Sesay responded.

Today, Mr. Sesay described a letter sent from Mr. Sankoh - who was in jail in Nigeria at the time -- to Mr. Koroma and top RUF commander, Sam Bockarie. The letter, delivered by another RUF commander, Gibril Massaquoi, informed the two men that Mr. Ghadaffi had given Mr. Sankoh USD 2,000,000 with which he had bought weaponry. These arms and ammunition were to be collected from Burkinabe CIC General Diendere and transported to Sierra Leone for use by the AFRC and RUF. Mr. Sankoh asked Mr. Koroma to provide money for a chartered flight to take the mateials to Sierra Leone. These materials, Mr. Sesay told the court, were the ones that were dropped off at an airstrip in northern Sierra Leone in late 1997.

Speaking about Mr. Sankoh, Mr. Sesay told the court that "he had travelled to Libya and had got some money from the Libyan leader and that is the money he used to buy the arms and ammunition."

"So he sent Gibril Massaquoi to meet General Diendere and Ibrahim Bah to make arrangements for the arms and ammunition to be taken to Sierra Leone," Mr. Sesay told the court.

"Mr. Sankoh told Johnny Paul to provide money to charter a flight for the arms and ammunition to be taken to Sierra Leone," he continued.

He said that "RUF agent," Ibrahim Bah, was invited to Sierra Leone and AFRC leader Mr. Koroma gave him USD 90,000 to pay for a chartered flight to transport the arms and ammunition from Burkina Faso to Sierra Leone. The said money was taken from the Bank of Sierra Leone, Mr. Sesay told the court.

Mr. Griffiths asked Mr. Sesay how he came to know all these details.

"Well, I took part in this. Even Gibril Massaquoi told me about the letters that he brought, Sam Bockarie told me. I was a senior commander and so was involved in what was going on," Mr. Sesay said.

"I was part of the team that went to receive the shipment," he added.

Asked by Presiding Judge of the Trial Chamber, Justice Julia Sebutinde, whether it is his testimony that "the funds that bought these arms and ammunition came from the Libyan leaded Muamarr Ghadaffi," Mr. Sesay said "yes, that was my understanding."

"Mr. Sankoh bought these arms and ammunition from General Diendere and he was able to keep them because he was the head of the army in Burkina Faso. If it were not for Mr. Sankoh's arrest, they would have come before then because Mr. Sankoh had given instructions to Peter Vandy to prepare an airstrip in Buedu," Mr. Sesay explained.

When asked whether it was possible for the flight carrying the arms and ammunition to have passed through Liberia before heading to Sierra Leone, Mr. Sesay said: "No. It would not have been possible because at that time, ECOMOG [West African peacekeepers] were based in Liberia."

Mr. Sesay said that within this period of time, neither the RUF, nor the AFRC leadership, had any dealings with Mr. Taylor.

"Before we joined the AFRC, we had no talk or business with Mr. Taylor...When we joined the AFRC, Johnny Paul had no business with Mr. Taylor," Mr. Sesay said.

Mr. Sesay insisted that if other RUF commanders had been in contact with Mr. Taylor, he would have known because he was the rebels' Battle Group Commander.

When shown an October 3, 1997, letter written and signed by AFRC leader Mr. Koroma in which the AFRC leader thanked Mr. Taylor for his support and requested a huge consignment of arms and ammunition, Mr. Sesay said that this was his first time seeing the letter. He did not know that Mr. Koroma had made such a request from Mr. Taylor, he said.

Mr. Sesay's testimony continues on Thursday.

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