Charles Taylor trial hears of rebel atrocities

A former rebel fighter testified in the war-crimes trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor on Tuesday that the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in Sierra Leone killed and raped civilians and burned their homes.

Dennis Koker (39), a fighter for the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) rebel group that was aligned to the RUF, told the Special Court for Sierra Leone how RUF rebels “started shooting at people, killing them and setting their houses on fire”.

The RUF rebels also forced civilians to follow them, carrying all the things the rebels had looted, he said.

“It was all civilians, children and adults, men and women ... if they refused, saying they weren’t able to carry, [the rebels] would shoot [them],” Koker told the trial, which is taking place in The Hague.

Prosecutors say that Taylor supported and directed the RUF rebels—who, along with the AFRC, fought in Sierra Leone’s bloody 1991 to 2001 civil war—to gain control of the country’s diamonds and other natural resources.

Koker was a soldier in the Sierra Leone Army before he joined the AFRC.

When he was fighting with the RUF rebels he took part in a so-called scorched-earth campaign known as Operation No Living Thing.

After being chased out of the Sierra Leone capital of Freetown in February 1998, Koker and 5 000 other AFRC rebels joined the RUF fighters in their retreat to the east of the country.

When the fighters arrived in the town of Koidu in the diamond-rich Kono district, “day and night they were burning houses, even concrete houses”, according to Koker.

“They would even take the zinc, the roof,” he said.

He told the trial that his commander told him Operation No Living Thing was an order from high command.

“So that when government forces [would] come they would not be able to stay in Kono,” he explained.

The rebels took children to do household chores and women who were “made wives”, meaning they were used as sex slaves.

“It was very common since the start of the war,” Koker said.

Sierra Leone’s civil war left about 120 000 people dead and thousands mutilated.

Taylor, the first former African head of state to appear before an international tribunal, faces 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.—AFP

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