FREETOWN, Sierra Leone – A notorious arms supplier and top associate of former Liberian President Charles Taylor has been living freely in Sierra Leone's capital city, according to United Nations experts.
A Sierra Leone police official said Wednesday that a man going by the same name as the suspect, Ibrahim Bah, was detained after the U.N. experts' allegations were published on May 31. But the official, Morie Lengor, said the man was released on bail after denying he was the same man fingered in the report.
Human Rights Watch on Wednesday urged the government to launch criminal proceedings against Bah, a Senegalese national accused of supporting rebel groups involved in killings and amputations during Sierra Leone's 11-year civil war that ended in 2002.
"Sierra Leone has taken major steps over the past decade to promote justice for serious crimes committed during its horrific civil war and to build respect for the rule of law," said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher for HRW. "Investigating Bah for possible criminal prosecution would be an important way to build on this progress."
Taylor received a 50-year sentence in May 2012 for supporting the rebels in Sierra Leone in exchange for "blood diamonds." Defense lawyers disputed the allegations, pointing out that Taylor did not physically travel to Sierra Leone. But judges at the Special Court for Sierra Leone found there was enough evidence to link Taylor to the crimes, and identified Bah as a "trusted emissary" who served as a liaison between Taylor and the rebels.
"He was a businessman who helped arrange arms and diamond transactions," the judges said of Bah in their verdict against Taylor.
Bah, 62, met Taylor in Benghazi, Libya in 1988 while working as a trainer in military camps, according to the report from U.N. experts. He spent four years training in special warfare in Libya in the 1980s, and also served as a bodyguard to former Libya dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
He was believed to be in Burkina Faso when he was placed on a U.N. travel ban in 2004.
But the May 31 report from U.N. experts said Bah had been living in Freetown since 2008 with a Senegalese passport under the name Ibrahima Balde. The report also says Bah tried to recruit mercenaries for Ivory Coast's 2010-11 postelection conflict.
Although Bah was not put on trial by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, a joint court set up by the West African nation's government and the United Nations, HRW's Dufka said that in no way precluded a local trial.
"The Special Court has made a vital contribution, but its work should not be the end of the road," Dufka said. "Domestic cases are also needed to more fully ensure justice for the graves crimes committed during Sierra Leone's war."
Corey-Boulet reported from Dakar, Senegal.