MONROVIA (AFP) — Liberia's former vice president Moses Blah said Monday that he has been called to testify in the trial of Charles Taylor, the first African leader to face an international tribunal for war crimes.
Blah said the United Nations Special Court for Sierra Leone, which is trying Liberia's ex-president Taylor in The Hague for his alleged key part in a brutal civil war in the neighbouring country, had sent him a subpoena for April 14.
"I will speak the truth. This is why I am surprised that some people are worried that there is the possibility of me testifying," said Blah, who served as vice-president under Taylor and then briefly took over when he was ousted.
Blah said that he would tell the court in The Hague about the death of Sam Bockarie, who in 1988 and 1989 led Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front (RUF), a brutal force that waged a civil war at a cost of 120,000 lives.
Taylor came to power in Liberia as a warlord in a brutal conflict, but was toppled and forced into exile in Nigeria in 2003 by the combination of a rebellion against him and international pressure.
However, he is on trial in The Hague for what the prosecution presents as a key role in supporting and controlling the RUF, which ravaged Sierra Leone from 1991 and 2001.
Taylor allegedly funded and armed them in exchange for diamonds and other resources, while rebels terrorised civilians by cutting off arms, legs, ears and noses, leaving thousands of people mutilated.
Blah linked Bockarie's death to Taylor's then chief of general staff Benjamin Yeaten.
"The night of the killing of Sam Bockarie I saw Benjamin Yeaten. And other groups were travelling and they stopped in my village. I asked them 'Where are you guys going with such a huge convoy?' Sam Bockarie was among them, his wife also was there," Blah told journalists.
However, he on Monday gave no further details of that night, stating only that he would go to The Hague, where Taylor is on trial on 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone, all of which he denies.
Blah was head of state for about two months after Taylor went into exile in Nigeria, then he handed over in October 2003 to interim president Gyude Bryant, who oversaw a transition to democratic rule in 2006 under elected President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson.
Lawyer John Richardson, who heads a legal team defending Taylor, on Saturday welcomed reports that Blah could be called to testify before the tribunal in The Hague, which has heard a grisly series of accounts of atrocities from prosecution witnesses.
"If this is the truth, we will welcome it," Richardson said, describing Blah as "a credible individual, someone who comes from what we will say is a close range circle (and who) knows."
"Having seen the parade of non credible witnesses that the prosecution has lined up claiming they are insiders, we believe that the vice president of president Taylor... going to testify will open up and allow Liberians to share all things."
Taylor's trial before the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone was moved from Freetown to The Hague because there were fears his presence in the African country could destabilize the region.
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