THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Former Liberian President Charles Taylor denied on Monday that he had played any part in forming the guerrilla force that invaded Sierra Leone in the early 1990s.
In his second week of testimony at his war crimes trial, Taylor was categorical in rejecting the testimony of prosecution witnesses that he attended the meeting that planned the rebel incursion into Sierra Leone, that he trained the rebel forces and that he commanded their operations.
"I was never involved. It's a lie," he said.
Taylor is charged with 11 counts of murder, torture and recruiting child soldiers for supporting rebels during Sierra Leone's 1991-2002 civil war. He is the first African head of state to be brought before an international court for war crimes.
Allegations that Taylor was instrumental in creating and commanding the Sierra Leonean rebel force known as the Revolutionary United Front, or RUF, was a key element of the prosecution case, presented by 91 witnesses since the trial opened in January 2008.
"I played no part whatsoever in organizing the RUF, none whatsoever," Taylor told the three judges of the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone.
"I had no knowledge in March 1991, or before then, that a group calling itself RUF was either planning or organizing or training to attack Sierra Leone, not at all," he said.
The rebels staged their assault on Sierra Leone from Liberian territory, where prosecution witnesses said they were recruited and trained in camps run by Taylor's forces. The Sierra Leone rebels were infamous for tortures inflicted on civilians, wielding machetes to slice off limbs, ears and noses of victims to suppress any opposition.
In Liberia, Taylor set out in 1989 to topple the government of President Samuel Doe. In 1991, he said, he was still fighting the remnants of Doe's army as well as a Nigerian-led African peacekeeping force sent to put down his revolution.
Asked if at that time he was in charge of the RUF, Taylor replied, "Definitely not. How could I be in charge of RUF that I knew nothing about?"
Taylor said he never met RUF leader Foday Sankoh until five months after the invasion when his forces and the rebels in Sierra Leone were both fighting a third rebel outfit known as ULIMO, which controlled a swathe of territory on their common border.
Sankoh, pleading a shortage of men, asked Taylor for help. It was only then that cooperation with the RUF began, Taylor said.