Wednesday, January 09, 2008

RUF Rebels in Sierra Leone Called Former Liberian President Charles Taylor 'Boss'


RUF rebels called Taylor 'boss'

Stephanie van den Berg
Wed, 09 Jan 2008

A churchman who was held captive by rebels in Sierra Leone testified on Tuesday in the trial of Liberian ex-president Charles Taylor that his captors referred to Taylor as "boss".

Taylor is accused of arming, training and controlling the Revolutionary United Front 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 clergyman in the diamond-rich Kono district of Sierra Leone, was the first victim of atrocities to take the stand in the trial which resumed this week after a six month delay.

After a harrowing story of surviving a massacre at the hands of AFRC/RUF rebels and being held captive by them, Tamba Teh recounted meeting with 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 marshal.

"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 Bockarie, who was murdered in 2003, had "the lead role in the link between Taylor and the AFRC/RUF alliance".

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

Around 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 like diamonds and timber.

Host of atrocities

The witness on Tuesday testified that he had witnessed a host of atrocities including a massacre of civilians, rape and mutilations carried out by the rebel troops.

He recalled seeing the rebels' so-called Small Boys Unit of child soldiers.

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

He described a harrowing incident 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. Tamba Teh also said the civilians were sent with other civilians to pick up arms.

According to the witness the ammunition they were brought was in a helicopter that had writing saying Liberia Airways.

On Tuesday the defence tried to cast doubt on the testimony of the witness asking him why some of his earlier statements to the prosecution seemed to differ from what he was saying in court. Tamba Teh was insistent that he had told everything he told the court to the prosecution before.

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


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