By Ted Townsend
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa
THE HAGUE, Netherlands – The trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor continued into its sixth week with the testimony of two more prosecution witnesses. Aruna Gbona (“Gbona”), prosecution witness TF1-330, testified first with the majority of his testimony focusing on the forced labor of civilians by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). Following the close of Gbona’s testimony, prosecution witness TF1-275 Foday Lansana (“Lansana”), a former RUF radio operator, took the stand, and testified about coordination between Taylor’s forces and RUF commanders.
Gbona testified over the course of two days, mostly with regards to the period between 1996 and 2000, when he was forced to work for the rebels. All groups of civilians working for the rebels during this time had a solider in charge of the group, called a G5. Each G5 had a group of rebel soldiers with him, many of whom were from eight to ten years old. The G5’s and their soldiers forced the civilians to farm, fish, mine and hunt in their native villages and nearby towns. All harvests, catches and kills had to be immediately turned over to the rebels. Gbona “considered this procedure to be slavery: before the war he could cultivate the land pace and the harvest would be for him and his family to eat and to sell.”
Gbona further testified about the physical ramifications for the civilians. When they wouldn’t work to the rebels desired level, or when they were reluctant to work, beatings ensued. Moreover, the rate of hernias during the rebel occupation rose significantly due to the heavy loads the civilians were often required to carry for the rebels. Women, in addition to the forced labor, also were often forced into marriage with the rebels.
The defense did not have any questions for Gbona.
Prosecutor Christopher Santora next called Lansana to the stand. The questioning began focusing mostly on his background. Lansana, a native Liberian, was recruited by the National Freedom Party of Liberia (NFPL) from a refugee camp and trained to be a radio operator. He was posted in Monrovia at a Coca Cola factory that doubled as a base, where, on the second day of his posting, he witnessed a meeting between Taylor and more than 25 members of his special forces. Taylor told those assembled that jets from Sierra Leone were “killing people” and that he would “inform the world that Sierra Leone had been used as a base to kill his people.”
Lansana was later sent to the RUF/NFPL headquarters for Lofa County, Liberia, where he witnessed troops, weapons and supplies going in and out of Sierra Leone. He recounted to the court that, in order to disguise the groups operations in Sierra Leone, they would refer to Sierra Leone as “Kuwait,” because of the perceived wealth of the country. Later, Lansana himself was sent with a group of reinforcement troops into Sierra Leone and charged with installing a radio at RUF commander Foday Sankoh’s house. This radio allowed Sankoh to communicate with Taylor, code name “Butterfly.”
Christopher Santora’s questioning of Lansana continued for two days, covering everything from the development of radio communication and technical explanations of how the communications were conducted, to specific facts regards communications between the witness and specific commanders. He specifically recounted the procedure for passing on messages and instruction from Sankoh, who had been imprisoned, to Taylor.
Lansana was also questioned about his own personal arrest, on 14 counts of shooting with intent, a sentence which he served ten years for. He did not recall what the arrest was for, but believed it to be in relation to a 2000 incident where 15 civilians were shot at Sankoh’s home.
True to their strategy with other witnesses, he defense began its cross examination of Lansana mostly by reviewing details, and small factual discrepancies in his testimony. They also explored possible benefits he may have received in exchange for his testimony.
For more information, please see:
allAfrica.com – Prosecution Witness Describes RUF Use of Civilian Forced Labor – 20 February 2008
allAfrica.com – Former NPFL/RUF Radio Operator Testifies – 21 February 2008
The Trial of Charles Taylor –Prosecution’s Examination of Foday Lansana Completed; Defense Counsel Begins Cross-Examination of Lansana – accessed 22 February 2008
allAfrica.com – Taylor’s Defense Team Pleased With Trial – 21 February 2008
allAfrica.com – Lansana Testifies Concerning Communications Between Taylor and Sankoh – 22 February 2008
Impunity Watch – Update on Charles Taylor Trial – 16 February