Taylor funded and armed Sierra Leone rebels, says aide

Former Liberian president Charles Taylor funded and armed a rebel leader in neighbouring Sierra Leone, one of his top aides told a United Nations-backed war crimes court on Wednesday.

Taylor is on trial for orchestrating rape, murder, mutilation and recruitment of child soldiers during the 1991 to 2002 Sierra Leone civil war. More than 250 000 people died in intertwined wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Varmuyan Sherif, head of presidential security from 1997 to 2000, said Taylor sent him to Sierra Leone to find Revolutionary United Front (RUF) leader Sam Bockarie, dubbed ”Mosquito” for attacking while people were off their guard.

Sherif (39) told the court he witnessed Bockarie, renowned for slicing off his victims’ limbs, execute several people before escorting him to Monrovia to meet Taylor, who he said gave the rebel leader money and a satellite phone.

”I know very well that the mission of Sam Bockarie was being supported by Mr Taylor.”

Taylor, the first former African head of state to face an international court, has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The prosecution says Taylor wanted to plunder Sierra Leone’s diamond wealth and destabilise its government by controlling and arming rebels.

Trucks of arms

After Bockarie’s visit, Sherif said Taylor told him to supply the RUF with arms and ammunition and allow them free movement in Liberian territory. Prosecutors showed the court photographs of Sherif with a truck loaded with ammunition for the RUF at the Sierra Leone border.

Sherif described how he had to change out of his presidential uniform and into black fatigues for such operations in case of interception by international peacekeepers.

Taylor listened intently while Sherif testified, taking notes, checking maps and passing papers to his lawyer.

In the early 1990s, Sherif was a commander who fought Taylor’s forces but was integrated into his staff after a peace process brought him to power in 1997.

Sherif described capturing child soldiers as young as 12 from Taylor’s forces, of how civilians were executed for complaining and how young girls were used as sex slaves.

Once he joined Taylor’s staff, Sherif said he was responsible for the presidential motorcade and the security of Taylor’s family and properties. He also accompanied the president on foreign trips.

Sherif is the third person to testify at the trial at the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone that started on Monday after months of wrangling over defence funding.

On Tuesday, pastor Alex Tamba Teh from the diamond district of Kono described the massacre and decapitation of 101 people as well as the dismemberment of a young boy.

The court also heard from conflict diamond expert Ian Smillie, who said the RUF used brutality to frighten people away from diamond fields that earned them up to $125-million a year.

Taylor went into exile in Nigeria after he was overthrown in 2003 and was handed to the court after international pressure. His trial was moved to The Hague because of fears it could reignite instability if held in Sierra Leone. — Reuters

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