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BLOOD DIAMONDS

An excerpt from the Daily Mail website:http://www.sierraleonedailymail.com/archives/494, retrieved August 19, 2010, Alpha Sesay reports:

Prosecutors today asked Charles Taylor’s 19th witness, the former interim leader of the Sierra Leonean rebel group that Mr. Taylor is accused of providing support for, to account to the people of Sierra Leone what his rebel group did with the country’s diamonds and whether the war in Sierra Leone was about diamonds.

Issa Hassan Sesay, the former interim leader of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebel group moved into the second day of his cross-examination where among many other things, the discussion moved into what the RUF did with Sierra Leone’s diamond resources. Prosecution counsel Nicholas Koumjian read portions of the RUF anthem in which the rebel group questioned the government of Sierra Leone about the country’s diamond resources.

“Where are our diamonds…RUF is hungry to know where they are,” reads a portion of the anthem that was quoted in court today. When asked afterwards whether “the war in Sierra Leone was a war about diamonds,” Mr. Sesay said, “No.” “It was not a war about diamonds because from 1991 to 1997, the RUF was not occupying diamond areas,” Mr. Sesay responded.

When asked whether this situation changed after 1997, Mr. Sesay again said, “No.” “If it was a war about diamonds, I wouldn’t have disarmed in the diamond areas,” he added. Mr. Koumjian read a portion of a November 2000 newspaper that quoted Mr. Taylor as saying, “Yes, I think that the war in Sierra Leone is a war about diamonds but not for Liberia to take those diamonds.”

In response to this statement, Mr. Sesay said, “I wouldn’t agree because the war in Sierra Leone was not about diamonds.” When Mr. Sesay was asked to account to the people of Sierra Leone what he did with the country’s diamonds, Mr. Sesay explained that he sold the diamonds and the proceeds were used to take care of RUF members who were also Sierra Leoneans.

“The diamonds that I got I used to sell and used the money to take care of the RUF…The RUF soldiers that I took care of, they were Sierra Leoneans,” he said. In response to a question as to the number of “stones” [diamonds] that he received while he was in control of the RUF, Mr. Sesay said, “I can’t remember the exact number of stones I received.”

He also said that he cannot recall the exact amount of money that he obtained from the sale of the diamonds that were mined by the RUF.

“You can’t account because the bulk of the diamonds went to Charles Taylor, isn’t it?” Mr. Koumjian put to Mr. Sesay. “Well, as far as money was concerned, the diamonds I used to receive I used to sell, I did not give diamonds to Mr. Taylor,” Mr. Sesay responded.

Mr. Koumjian also read a portion of the report submitted to the court by a prosecution expert witness, who testified in 2008. In the report, the expert witness estimated that proceeds from diamond sales during the period of the RUF’s occupation of the mining areas in Sierra Leone could have amounted to millions of dollars. Mr. Koumjian then pushed Mr. Sesay further on what could have happened to the diamonds from Sierra Leone.

“What happened to all the diamonds in Kono and Tongo Field [both diamond mining towns in Sierra Leone]…you took them to Charles Taylor,” Mr. Koumjian said.

“No sir. These estimates that they are making are exaggerations, I never saw this kind of diamonds…I said I was not taking diamonds to Charles Taylor. The diamonds that they were mining, I used to sell to take care of the RUF,” Mr. Sesay explained.

Also read in court today was a portion of the evidence of a previous prosecution witness Abu Keita, a former member of the RUF, who said that civilians were beaten and harassed if they were found in possession of diamonds in Kono. Mr. Sesay said that this was never the case. “That is not true…the atmosphere in Kono was nice, and there was no harassment of civilians,” Mr. Sesay said.

Prosecutors allege that the RUF subjected civilians in diamond mining towns to forced labor in order to work as miners. Some of these civilians were killed when they could not work as miners, prosecutors allege. It is further alleged that the diamonds, once mined, were taken to Mr. Taylor in Liberia by RUF commanders, including Mr. Sesay. Mr. Taylor has denied receiving diamonds from RUF rebels, and in his testimony as a defense witness for Mr. Taylor, Mr. Sesay has also denied taking diamonds to Mr. Taylor in Liberia.

Prosecutors also today put to Mr. Sesay that himself and RUF commander Sam Bockarie looked at Mr. Taylor as a father figure in their lives and Mr. Taylor took them to be his sons. Prosecutors highlighted the crimes committed by Mr. Bockarie in Sierra Leone and his public pronouncements about being a “ruthless commander.” Even with such pronouncements and reports of Mr. Bockarie’s atrocities in Sierra Leone, Mr. Taylor still took him to be his son, Mr. Koumjian said in court.

Mr. Koumjian read a portion of Mr. Taylor’s testimony in which the former Liberian president told the court how he liked Mr. Bockarie after he was confronted with evidence that he ordered the execution of Mr. Bockarie. “I never wanted that boy dead, I liked him like a son. I never wanted him dead. I never would have handed him to Kabbah [former Sierra Leonean president]…I loved that boy,” Mr. Taylor said in 2009.

“That’s what Charles Taylor said about Sam Bockarie, the man who did all this evil and threatened a campaign of evil to kill all living things,” Mr. Koumjian said after reading the statement. “Well, I don’t know, that is what Charles Taylor said, that was his opinion,” Mr. Sesay responded. Mr. Koumjian also pointed out that when Mr. Bockarie left the RUF and relocated to Liberia, Mr. Taylor gave him a huge salary because of the relationship that existed between them.

“Sam Bockarie had a salary of 1000 USD a month when the average Liberian is living on less than one USD a day…that’s how a father treats a son,” Mr. Koumjian said. Mr. Sesay responded that he never knew that Mr. Bockarie was receiving 1000 USD per month while in Liberia. Mr. Sesay’s testimony continues on Monday.