War Crimes Tribunal in Sierra Leone:


By Abdoulaye W. Dukule

The Perspective
January 7, 2002

The recent announcement by the United Nations that after all, the war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone will take place was good news for those who have suffered from the wrath of organized political crime gang in the sub-region for several years. The fact that the British freed many under-links of Foday Sankoh during the investigation should not be viewed as a problem. Those who were released were subservants in a major criminal enterprise with bigger fishes to be caught in the net. The real big culprits in this hunt for war criminals are Sankoh and Taylor and their mentors in Burkina Faso and Libya.

There is little doubt that any outcome of a war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone would have ramification in the West African sub-region and beyond. The Sierra Leone crisis is but an extension of the Liberian civil war. The command center of the RUF has always been linked to the NPFL. From the Mataba terrorist training center in Libya to Po military base in Burkina Faso, from Danane in Cote d'Ivoire to Gbarnga in Liberia and through Vahun to the rich diamond mines of Kono in Sierra Leone, the RUF has but follow the lead of the NPFL.

Taylor had a good chance to get rid of the Sierra Leone problem. At the last meeting of the Yamoussoukro Peace Talks, he agreed to the creation of a buffer zone between Liberia and Sierra Leone. This would have kept RUF on the Liberian side of the border and ULIMO on the Sierra Leone side. Beyond that, the NPFL leader had reached an agreement with President Joseph Momoh of Sierra Leone to "deliver" Foday Sankoh to Sierra Leone in exchange for a halt to the ULIMO incursions into Liberia. It so happened that with the Senegalese inclusion in the peacekeeping force, the border with Sierra Leone was about to be sealed. Taylor did not have to "deliver" Sankoh to Momohh to stop the ULIMO incursions into NPFL controlled areas.

The deal with Momoh did not go through. The diamonds Charles Taylor was receiving from the Kono area in Sierra Leone were much more profitable on the international stone market than those coming from the Lofa Bridge in Liberia. The NPFL leader saw the posting of the Senegalese soldiers at the border between Liberia and Sierra Leone as a major handicap. Not only would he not carry out his side of the bargain with Momoh - what else was new? -- he would force the Senegalese to dismantle their base by ordering the butchering of the peacekeepers deployed in Vahun. Five Senegalese soldiers, while in the market in Vahun, were provoked into a fight. They were shot at pointblank and their bodies were so mutilated that nobody could tell for sure which leg belonged to what body. When General Seck, Chief of Staff of the Senegalese army came to retrieve their bodies in Gbarnga, he had to wait for a full day before Taylor would hand to him five bloody blankets filled with body parts. After that incident, the Senegalese contingent returned to Monrovia. Does this sound like the RUF modus operandi?

In the next few years that followed these developments in the early 1990s, the RUF would follow the footsteps of the NPFL, becoming a copycat of its master. Foday Sankoh and his men would sign the Lome peace accord and walk away from it just as did the NPFL on many occasions. The RUF would try to overrun peacekeepers, take over Freetown (killing thousands of people in the process) just as the NPFL did in its bid to take over Monrovia in 1992 and 1996. The RUF would also take hundreds of peacekeepers as hostage just as the NPFL did in 1992. Whatever interest the British had in Sierra Leone, they managed to teach RUF a bitter lesson. It doesn't seem that the master killer, child-molester and international criminal Sankoh would benefit from his crimes, unlike his master.

When the international community called on Taylor to divest himself from RUF and leave Sierra Leone, few people in Liberia expected him to follow suit. The RUF was but an extension of the NPFL. Fighters from the NPFL were the same ones fighting for the RUF and vice-versa. It was like asking the US to let go of the Pentagon. The RUF has never had an existence of its own and Foday Sankoh has always been an under-link of Taylor.

In his calculation, Taylor sought to extend his domination to Sierra Leone, control its diamond mines and put a puppet in power. This would have given him a launching pad on Guinea and get rid of Conteh. Although the two shook hands, Conte never lost sight of the fact that the NPFL was anything but a "liberation army". Meanwhile, the connection with Robert Guei - who tried and failed to be another Doe - in Cote d'Ivoire would have allowed him to extend his tentacles eastward. Samba Sanyang of the Gambia, the man who attempted many failed coups against the regime of President Jawara was a lieutenant of Taylor just as was Foday Sankoh. Liberians fighters are known to have been involved in the fight in Casamance, Senegal. Dissidents from Togo also took part in training in Liberia. Many of Taylor fighters were put at the service of general Robert Guei who attempted to highjack elections in Cote d'Ivoire in 2000. Very recently, Liberians mercenaries were suspected of crossing the border into Ivory Coast. Speculations in Abidjan were that they were to lend a hand to Guei, while others said they were to attack Guinea from Danane, creating a wedge between Cote d'Ivoire and Guinea.

Whatever happens during that trial of Foday Sankoh would have consequences on our Liberian life. Nobody can tell how it would affect the democratic process in Liberia if Foday, as a messenger and Lieutenant of Taylor did what he was told to do. If RUF killed and raped, it was because it was trained and armed in Liberia before being unleashed on the people of Sierra Leone. The diamonds of Sierra Leone were brought to Monrovia before being put on the international market. A criminal trial calls for witnesses and accomplices.

The trial in Sierra Lone will have ramifications on our political process. How will Liberians seize this opportunity to move forward is another issue. Preparing for elections in 2003 sounds like a great idea but would there be elections in 2003? Would Mr. Taylor be convicted of war crime? Would he be considered as coconspirator to commit crimes against humanity? Would crimes committed against Liberians by the NPFL and the RUF be considered as crimes against humanity? Are all the great international lawyers of Liberia ready to render service to their country and play a role in this tribunal?

The walls are closing in on the Taylor regime. From Libya to Plains, Georgia, there seems to a real fatigue settling in. There are people who suck the blood of every one they meet and discard them as they go on to new victims. Political vampires or whatever we may call them, they have an insatiable thirst and hunger for everything. Taylor had everything to be happy about in 1997. All Liberians expected from him was peace. All the international community expected from him was leadership for a nation bruised by almost two decades of violence. Now he is at the point where nobody wants to be known as his "friend." Liberians need to be involved in this process and we must forgo our propensity to always depend on some outsider coming to do our work for us.

The walls are closing in on the NPFL. The war crimes tribunal in Sierra Leone is also about crimes against humanity in Liberia. Liberians are the only ones who can make a point about this and bring issues of relevance to the tribunal when it is set. It would then be left with us if we want a war-crime-indicted president running our country. If Foday Sankoh is indicted and convicted, Taylor will be convicted. Maybe this explains why certain people are so anxious in organizing a reconciliation conference. Who are they trying to save? Does Liberia really need another peace conference? Why?

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