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Charles Taylor: Guilty before charge

Owei Lakemfa
CHARLES Ghankay  Taylor stands charged before an international court in the Hague for  war crimes. He faces an – 11 count charge which include terrorism, murder, rape,torture, sexual slavery and  running child soldiers.

Taylor had crept into public consciousness when in 1989 he began a civil war in Liberia, his home country against the blood-thirsty, corrupt, inept and cannibalistic dictatorship of  General Samuel Doe.

The  Americans did not like Taylor because he had escaped from their justice system and was unlikely to be pliable.  Many African leaders like Nigeria’s General Ibrahim  Babangida wanted him stopped by all means  as he was a bad example. Can you imagine a bloody civilian trying to unseat a General not by street protests  but by conventional warfare.

As the Taylor’s forces closed in on Doe, Babangida  coupled a number of West African countries together  and established an armed  group called ECOMOG to stop him.

Additionally, the Nigerian dictator  engineered a  Taylor turn-coat called Yormie Johnson to put a wedge to Taylor’s advance. Ironically, it was the latter that set a trap for Doe right inside  the ECOMOG compound, caught him like a rat  and sliced him up, beginning with his ears, until Doe gave up the ghost.

Taylor is not being tried for  the Liberian civil war but for that of neighbouring  Sierra Leone.  That country was the base of ECOMOG when it intervened in the Liberian civil war. That war eventually spilled over to Sierra Leone in 1991.

The then leader of that country was a dictatorial, inefficient  and corrupt  General called Joseph Saidu  Momoh who ran a one-party state. The rebels called the Revolutionary United Front ( RUF ) were led by a former Corporal, Foday Sankoh.

The war was not going well for the government. To worsen matters, the wages of the soldiers on the battlefield  which was  being contributed by other countries were being embezzled.

At a point, the hungry soldiers decided to send a delegation to Freetown to demand for their salaries. When the delegates got to Government House, rather than meet with them, Momoh left for another part of the city. After a long wait, the delegates went on air and  declared him removed.

A young captain, Valentine Strasser,  stepped in as Head of State.

The new government did not share ECOMOG’s goals of  stopping Taylor’s rise in neighbouring Liberia nor did they see any reason to inherit  Momoh’s  war with the RUF. But they had to be tactical because Sierra Leone had a small army and the mighty ECOMOG was operating from their territory.

So  the  Strasser  government proposed  peace with RUF and elections to return the country to constitutional  governance. But the external powers who did not want peace, insisted on elections first and peace later. They were distrustful of Strasser.

So six weeks before the elections, they pressured a coup which replaced him with his Defence Minister, Brigadier Julius  Mada Bio. The candidate of ECOMOG and the  Bretton Wood institutions,  Tejan Kabbah won the elections and took over in February, 1996.  With that, the civil war continued.

A frustrated Sierra Leonean  army in May 1997,  teamed up with the RUF and overthrew  Kabbah in a desperate attempt to end the civil war. The ECOMOG led by Nigeria bombed the new regime out of Freetown, dismantled the army and returned Kabbah to power in March 1998. The civil war thus continued.

There were half-hearted moves by ECOWAS to end the war. After one such attempt, Sankoh complained that the government was  violating the peace agreement. Cote d’voire which backed RUF, asked him to go to Kabbah’s  principal. the military dictatorship in Nigeria and complain. When he came to Nigeria, Sankoh was detained. Again, the war continued.

Finally in July 1999, a freed Sankoh led the RUF to a peace deal under which he was  made technically, the country’s Vice President and put in charge of the minerals, including diamonds. A false alarm by the United Nations (UN)that the RUF was about over-running  Freetown had the desired effect as  an  unsuspecting crowd was led to invade Sankoh’s official residence.

In the resultant violence, Sankoh fled the house, was captured and put on trial. He was denied  a defence counsel of his choice.

When he was seriously ill and his ailment could not be treated in Sierra Leone, he was denied expert medical care which led to his death under UN custody.

As for Taylor, he was elected Liberian president in 1997. After a new rebellion broke out,  he relinquished power under an African Union (AU) peace deal in 2003 in order to stop further bloodshed and was given asylum in Nigeria under the Olusegun  Obasanjo  presidency.

Three years later, following pressures from the George Bush government in US, Obasanjo , contrary to the AU peace understanding, agreed to hand Taylor over to one of his old adversaries, Mrs Ellen Sirleaf who had become President of Liberia. Knowing the implications, Taylor fled and was ‘captured’ at a Nigerian border town. Taylor was to claim later that it was Obasanjo that planned his escape only to send Nigerian security after him.

Taylor was delivered to Sirleaf who apparently in line with a plan, parcelled him to Hague, Netherlands for trial in a so called ‘ Liberian’ war crimes tribunal sitting in Europe ! The prosecution based the case against Taylor on speculations, inferences, conjectures and emotive recount of the atrocities of the Sierra Leonean civil war.

Taylor is not directly linked, and any neophyte lawyer  can easily tear the accusations to shreds. But it is unlikely that a man who has been tried in the international media and found guilty, would be pronounced innocent.

In any case, if he were freed, the problem of where he would live will arise as the Liberian government would not want him to return,and Taylor would refuse to live in exile.

So the best place for the conspirators to keep him is in prison.


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