Charles Taylor Defends Sankoh
By Tom Kamara

Not many individuals emerge from the gallows and become vice presidents in charge of diamonds. But Sierra Leone's ruthless rebel veteran Foday Sankoh, whose trademark for political power includes amputating limbs of babies, is not one of the few, and there is every indication that his political fortunes are just beginning. Trusted ally and backer Charles Taylor, President of neighboring Liberia, reacting to world-wide condemnation of the rebels for the havoc they have caused in ten years - with over 50,000 dead, has challenged the RUF critics: "He who's without sin must cast the first stone", he told CNN in a telephone interview, thus endorsing Rev Jackson's judgment on the conflict that "every side has blood on their hands" in not only the RUF, a group referred to by his fellow American US UN Representative Richard Holbrooke as "bunch of rag-tag machete wielding murders."

Angers continue to flare in Sierra Leone against Sankoh, and his fate remains uncertain, with officials vowing to relegate him to the background in future dealings with the RUF. The rebel chief himself told captors he had been robbed of his powers by his "enemies", Sam Bockarie Masquita, who now forms part of Taylor's security machine and lives within the confines of the former warlord as a key strategist. "I am already disgraced. Don't kill me", begged a man noted for "soft commands", says Time, is taking life and hacking limbs of his victims, over 50,000 of them. Sierra Leone's Information Minister, Dr. Julius Spencer, has vowed that the RUF "Must leave the country or be thrown outThey are in a weak position".

Meanwhile, Taylor remains adamant over rehabilitation and leadership role: speaking to like-minded Libyan journalists in Monrovia Taylor insisted that, "He (Sankoh) is not just a piece of paper that must be put in the wind and expected to go away. All parties must be satisfied", the Los Angeles Times quoted Taylor as declaring. The former warlord, himself accused of spearheading the killing of over 250,000 people including 45,000 children, compared Sankoh to the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization Yasser Arafat, just as the Rev. Jesse Jackson compared Sankoh with Nelson Mandela. Says Taylor in defense of his Libyan trained comrade: "years ago, the struggle of the PLO was considered terrorist and our brother Yasser Arafat was supposed to be a terrorist. Now he is eating at the White House and at Number 10 Downing Street, which [means] people's minds can change."

Indeed people's minds do change, as evident by Taylor's own success in using terror for political dividends, which earned him admiration, and praises from civil right leaders like the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Soon, Sankoh could be dinning with Blair, just as Taylor dined with Mandela while receiving honors from French leaders and a peace prize from a German company, Siemens.

So speculations are that Mr. Sankoh may set precedence in bringing West Africa's criminal politicians to trial. Documents found in his home, looted by angry civilians after his hoodlums shot and killed a number of peaceful protesters, provide the basis for charges of corruption, the least among other expected charges such crimes against humanity and gross violation of people's fundamental rights--the right to live and live in happiness. The documents, hand- written is meticulous details, reveal that Sankoh may have stolen and sold diamonds worth over $10 million since he became vice president in charge of the diamonds, according to the BBC. No wonder why disarmament was only a dream since it would have shut the supply line of the diamond fields. The rebel chief also kept details of children abducted for service in his drugged army, according news reports. But Mr. Clinton, along with the UN, and not surprisingly Sankoh's backers in Monrovia, believe the Lome Agreement which allowed him to continue his killings and looting remains a hope for peace, although serious disagreements over the warlord usefulness are emerging from international circles and within Sierra Leone itself.

"Mr. Sankoh's arrest may complicate efforts to secure the release of the hostages by the rebels. But it should now be clear that any attempt to enlist Mr. Sankoh as a partner in peace is doomed to fail. Bringing him to justice is the best way to curb the anarchy that lies at the root of Sierra Leone's agony", say The New York Times in an editorial recently.

Rev. Jesse Jackson earlier announced that Sankoh's "voice was positive" in search for peace, But it should now be clear that any attempt to enlist Mr. Sankoh as a partner in peace is doomed to fail. Bringing him to justice is the best way to curb the anarchy that lies at the root of Sierra Leone's agony", say The New York Times in an editorial recently.

Rev. Jesse Jackson earlier announced that Sankoh's "voice was positive" in search for peace, compared Sankoh's drugged rebels to the ANC of South Africa, and sought a "port of safety" for Mr. Sankoh who was then in hiding. But realizing the resistance from the Sierra Leoneans and the international press, the flippant Reverend has now joined the mantra of isolating the vicious rebel leader. Sankoh should not be allowed to have military edge in Sierra Leone, Rev. Jackson says.

But although Sankoh was arrested by angry Sierra Leoneans and paraded naked in the streets, there are strong indications that his political rise is just beginning. Rev. Jackson's comparison of Sankoh with Mandela may not after all be without reason: The South African President emerged from Robin Island to become President. So Jackson, until recently, may have been preparing us for a President Sankoh. And Taylor, who insisted in 1999 that there would be no military victory against his RUF, condemning the British for training and arming the Sierra Leone's army, is again warning that continued detention of the rebel chief is a "stumbling block in the release of the hostages" his rebels are holding. Asked on CNN about his role in the theft and siphoning of Sierra Leone's diamonds, Taylor made one fascinating revelation: "There are probably more diamonds in Liberia than in Sierra Leone," he countered in the CNN interview. Taylor further informed a believing friend, (the Rev. Jackson who was in Monrovia last week for "peace" in Sierra Leone since he could not visit Freetown) that diamonds do not feature in Liberia's budget because there is no control of over them.

But during the Liberian war, Legbeh Degbon, a geologist responsible for thousands of peasants into the ruthless NPFL, was ordered executed on charges of plotting a coup against Mr. Taylor the warlord. However, the real truth in the man's execution, according to rebel National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) sources, was that the geologist, an expert on the quality of diamonds, committed a sin by questioning Mr. Taylor on the real value of diamonds he (Taylor) was receiving. Taylor dealt directly with diamond vendors who trekked to his bush capital of Gbarnga for purchases. Most of the diamond money was deposited in his Abidjan, Ouagadougou, or European accounts. The geologist's body was dissected and placed in front of the late Samuel Dokie's door in Gbarnga as a reminder that those who questioned Taylor on diamonds or looted proceeds would face the same fate. Both Dokie and the geologist were from the same ethnic group, Gio, who made up the bulk of the NPFL rebels. So yes, diamonds do not feature in Liberia's budget. They go directly to those in charge of the state as their fiefdom. A man believed to benefited from 31 million carats of diamonds smuggled into Liberia called for international financing of his proposal to control diamond mining in West Africa since "there is no organized diamond sales in the region."

Again as in 1999, the Liberian president is insisting on RUF political inclusion (despite recent violations) as precondition for peace. The principal tenants of this seemingly sacrosanct Agreement are:
a) Sankoh as Vice President in charge of the diamonds and,
b) Disarming his fighters as a prize. So Liberia's interest in the Lome Agreement is understandable when one looks at the personal economic benefits of its political leaders. According to studies, millions of dollars have passed through Liberia in diamond sales.

In any case, the danger in Sierra Leone lies on the political front, and the truth of the matter is that a political settlement in Sierra Leone without RUF's full participation is inconceivable in Taylor's mind for a number of reasons.

1). From the onset of his rebellion in December 1989, Taylor convinced himself that Sierra Leone was his anathema, since Freetown refused him a corridor to launch his offensive and arrested briefly for illegally using the country as base of his operations. Secondly, hundreds of Krahns and Mandingoes (tribes massacred by Taylor's drugged rebels in their hundreds of thousands) fled to Sierra Leone for protection. When Taylor created the RUF and dispatched it to Sierra Leone, their safety was no longer guaranteed. Many of them remain there since the so-called elections and many more have joined them due to continued clampdown by Taylor's security forces.

2). The AFRC-RUF coup of 1997 eliminated this fear because immediately after the takeover, the junta called and congratulated Taylor as the new President of Liberia. Nigeria's military campaign that ousted the junta was bitterly resisted in Monrovia, as thousands of RUF and AFRC fighters sought refuge in Liberia. Taylor demanded that there can be no peace without Sankoh and the RUF. A better- trained, better armed RUF-AFRC force, operating from Liberia, launched its 1999 offensive, coming close to taking Freetown. The world community accepted Taylor's demand that there would be no peace in Sierra Leone without the RUF. The strategy of terror for political dividends worked in Liberia. It would be repeated in Sierra Leone. Through the mediation of efforts of his friend the Rev. Jackson, Taylor drafted the Lome Agreement and forced it down the throat of a cornered government wanting peace at any price, any cost.

Concludes the British weekly The Economist: "If the UN, Britain, America and the Sierra Leone Government all follow the same policy towards Liberia, Mr. Taylor could be taken on. But they at odds. Liberia, which was founded by black Americans, looks to the US as Sierra Leone looks to Britain, the former colonial ruler. And Mr. Jackson, together with other black Americans who are influential in formulating American policy on Africa, are personal friends of Mr. Taylor's."

It was this personal "friendship" between the butchering and corrupt warlord and America's civil right leaders that equally influenced America's policy towards Liberia during the war, with men like former President Jimmy Carter unashamedly preaching the warlord's cause and therefore ensuring his triumph.

What is now increasingly become accepted is the fact Sierra Leone's woes will continue as long as Liberia remains a corridor for supplying and arming the rebels. Nigeria Chief Staff Gen. Victor Malu, the man who theoretically disarmed Liberia's armed factions but later confided that Taylor was the only warlord that looked "presidential" because his looted wealth, now says that Sierra Leone's will end only when the rebels' supply line, well established in Liberia, is cutoff. Burkina Faso, one of the rebels' main backers along with Libya and to some extent Cote d'Ivoire before the coup, has denied any links to Sankoh, insisting correctly that it has no land borders with Sierra Leone. Its job is only to arrange arms shipment, according to a report in The Washington Post. Since Campaori's 'Comrade-in chaos and death " Taylor has land borders with Sierra Leone, the rest of the job is his. In 1999, the rebels, on the verge of victory after storming Freetown and killing 5000 people, announced that only Campaori, would convince them to stop the killing since, they argued, he understood their war and requests.

Sankoh has survived before, and with Taylor's blessings, and once international attention on the crisis subsides, Sierra Leone will slide back to business as usual. With neighbors like Taylor, West Africa is just awakening to worst days ahead.