Charles Taylor trial hears of murder, rape and mutilation

A reverend who survived a massacre and was held captive by rebels in Sierra Leone testified on Tuesday in the trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor about seeing killings, rapes and mutilations.

Taylor is accused of arming, training and controlling the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in Sierra Leone in exchange for still-unknown amounts of diamonds.

The former Liberian leader has pleaded not guilty to 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including terrorising the civilian population, murder, rape and the use of child soldiers.

Alex Tamba Teh (47), a reverend in the diamond-rich Kono district of Sierra Leone, was the first victim of atrocities to take the stand in the trial that resumed this week after a six-month delay.

Tamba Teh told the court that after his town was taken over by RUF rebels he was captured along with other civilians and taken to a rebel leader.

“After they killed the civilians in the group, other adult men, he gave instructions that they should be decapitated,” he said.

A so-called Small Boys Unit of child soldiers carried out the orders.

“They were small, small boys below the age of 15, some could not even lift their guns, they were dragging them,” Tamba Teh said.

After the massacre a harrowing incident followed where some of the child soldiers killed another boy by chopping off his limbs.

“He was crying, screaming, asking: ‘What have I done?’ They put his right arm on a log and with a machete, amputated it at the wrist,” Tamba Teh described.

After cutting off his other hand and both feet, the child soldiers took the boy, who was still screaming, and threw him into a toilet pit, he added.

After being spared from the killings by the rebels because he was a clergyman, Tamba Teh was taken to another rebel base where he was held with other civilian men and women.

The captives were forced to find food for the rebels and at night the women were raped, he told the court.

After the harrowing story of surviving this massacre, Tamba Teh recounted meeting infamous RUF leader Sam Bockarie, also known as Mosquito, in 1998.

Mosquito wanted to appoint him as a pastor to the RUF troops but the witness said he refused, asking instead to be made a field marshall.

“My boss [Charles] Gankay Taylor is not yet a five-star general, how can I make you a field marshall?” the witness quoted Bockarie as saying.

According to the prosecution, Taylor controlled rebel forces in neighbouring Sierra Leone who went on a blood diamond-funded rampage of killing, mutilation and rape during the 1991 to 2001 civil war.

About 120 000 people were killed in the conflict, with rebels mutilating thousands more, cutting off arms, legs, ears or noses.

Prosecutors said Taylor, who was the president of Liberia during most of the time covered in the charges, supported the rebels in order to get his hands on the abundant natural resources of Sierra Leone, such as diamonds and timber.

Taylor’s trial before the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone was moved from Freetown to The Hague because there were fears his presence there could destabilise the region.

Taylor’s defence team stressed on Tuesday that the witnesses’ testimony was not necessary because they do not say these crimes did not happen, they just argue Taylor was not responsible for them.

“Why do these victims have to travel thousands of miles and have to tell their terrible stories 10 years after it happened,” Taylor’s lawyer, Courtenay Griffiths, said.

“We do not contest these crimes happened, they have already been examined before the Sierra Leone tribunal. Are we going to repeat this ad nauseam,” he asked. — AFP

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