By Cllr. Tiawan S. Gongloe
November 27, 2002
When the world, led by the United States, accused the Taylor Government of supporting the Revolutionary United Front of Sierra Leone a few years ago, Taylor did not only clearly deny but started a big public relation campaign to prove that the Governments of the United States, Great Britain and Sierra Leone were great liars. Taylor called meetings and press conferences at the Executive Mansion to tell the Liberian people that his government was being falsely accused and called upon the Liberian people not to believe the accusation against his government. Taylor conducted interviews with the BBC, West Africa Weekly, The New African and other international media institutions, denying his government’s support for the RUF.Addittionally, he sent his foreign minister and other officials of his government abroad on public relation campaigns to tell the world that a big lie was being told against his government. Taylor’s big argument was that his accusers had no evidence to link him to the RUF. Well, a few days ago, Taylor finally admitted his support for the RUF in the Washington POST.
This is what Taylor said in the November 12, 2002 edition of the Washington Post at page A16, column six:
“In the Sierra Leone crisis, for example, Liberia was not the only country involved. The other countries got off the hook, because other major countries protected them. We had good reasons for our association with the RUF (Revolutionary United Front of Sierra Leone) at that particular period, purely for national security concerns.”
What Taylor said in the Washington Post is what the whole world knew was the truth all along. However, he kept denying and asking for evidence. The question that lingers in the mind of every reasonable person who has followed this issue is why did Taylor wait for the United States and the United Nations to impose sanctions on Liberia before he could admit his involvement with the RUF.Why did Taylor wait for the United Nations to spend so much money (money that could have been spend on Liberia’s reconstruction) on panels of investigation to prove his support for the RUF before he could admit his involvement with the RUF? Why did Taylor unnecessarily use government revenue to send his cronies abroad to lie that he was not involved in Sierra Leone, when he knew the truth was that he was actively supporting the RUF? Why is Taylor admitting his involvement with the RUF less than one month before the formal opening of the special war crime tribunal in Sierra Leone? Is the admission by Taylor a strategy to make him a star prosecution witness to testify against those other countries he says were involved with the RUF, or is it intended to mitigate whatever punishment he could get following his trial by the Special Court? Now that Taylor has voluntarily admitted, he has provided more than sufficient reason for his indictment by the Special Court.
The admission made by Taylor in the Washington Post is not the first admission made by him; nonetheless, it is the clearest, so far. The first admission was circumstantial and was by the way he conducted himself in the UN hostage crisis in Sierra Leone a few years ago when the RUF took hostage 500 UN peacekeepers. Taylor was asked by the international community to persuade the RUF to release the 500 UN peacekeepers to the UN, in the same way President Jimmy Carter was asked by ECOWAS in 1992 to persuade the NPFL to release 500 ECOMOG soldiers held hostage by the NPFL.
Instead of Taylor persuading the RUF to release the hostages at the buffer zone manned by the UN between the Sierra Leonean army and the RUF, Taylor released all 500 of the UN hostages from Lofa county in Liberia and air-lifted them from Lofa county by helicopters provided by Libya for the purpose. He began this exercise one day after he was contacted as though he had custody of the hostages. The speed with which he acted and the fact that the hostages were released from Liberian territory created suspicion as to who had actual custody of the hostages. In addition, the speed with which Taylor acted created the impression that instead of persuading the RUF to release the hostages, he just informed them that he was releasing the hostages and he did. The second admission made by Taylor was through a statement issued by the Foreign Minister of Liberia, which said, “The government of Liberia has disengaged from the RUF”. The foreign ministry later clarified that it meant Sierra Leone, not the RUF. Howbeit, the interesting thing is that most Liberians knew that the Government was referring to the RUF. The third admission was made by President Taylor himself, when he appeared before the Liberian Legislature, a year ago, during his annual message. On that occasion, he said that he had closed down the RUF liaison office in Monrovia, as well as, its bank account at the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI). He did not tell the Liberian people when the office and the bank account were opened.
In spite of all these admissions, the admission made by Taylor recently in the Washington Post is the clearest admission he has made of his involvement in the Sierra Leonean conflict. In that admission, he did not only admit, but gave justification for his involvement. According to Taylor, he got involved” purely for national security concerns.” If this is true, why did he not tell the Liberian people, who all along knew, that he was involved in Sierra Leone. What was his motive for denying the truth, even to Liberians who were in Gbarnga during the Liberian civil war with Foday Sankor and other Sierra Leonean rebels?
The puzzling thing about Taylor’s admission is the avenue he chose to make it. Of all newspapers, he chose the Washington Post for this important revelation and did so in a public relation peace intended to persuade the American Government to assist his Government. The timing and the manner in wish this revelation was made say a lot about the wisdom of Taylor and his lieutenants. Now that this admission has been clearly made, Liberians should stop arguing among themselves about whether or not there is evidence against Taylor. What should be done now is for Liberians to unite in an effort to make Taylor account for the pain, suffering and embarrassment he has put Liberia through by his support for the RUF. What Taylor has done is an impeachable offense but the current Legislature of Liberia does not have the courage to impeach Mr. Taylor. I will be pleasantly surprised if they even discuss it for a minute. Therefore, the Liberian people, acting through their various civil society organizations should take their destiny in their hands. This is an important historical moment that the people of Liberia must not let pass without doing anything. The world is watching.