Child Soldier Confirms Forced Labor; As Kosiah Testifies Today In War Crimes Trial in Paris

ulimo child soldiers. credit: Corinne Dufka/Reuters

PARIS, France – A witness claiming to be a child soldier with Kunti Kamara has confirmed testimonies of over a dozen witnesses of forced labor by Kamara—one of the charges the former commander of the United Liberation Movement for Democracy faces at his war crimes trial here in Paris, France.

The issue has been critical in the trial, but the former ulimo battlefront commander has repeatedly denied the allegations— accusing the witnesses of “plotting” against him to seek asylums in Europe—allegations their lawyer denies.

The witness said, “We used civilians because ULIMO was a poor organization. Civilians were only transporting the goods in the car,”—comments that corroborate the testimonies of other witnesses at the trial. The witness named the items allegedly looted by ulimo soldiers under Kamara’s watch as “oil, banana and electrical generators,”. “I saw them move small generators for ulimo. We didn’t have technicians, so we didn’t transport big generators,” he said.

The witness claimed the civilians carried the looted items to the town of Solomba along the Liberian-Guinean border by shifts. “We didn’t have cars everywhere. So, we used human labor, and some areas were not accessible to cars to reach Solomba” the witness said. “I can’t tell you the distance we used to walk. So, it could be 6, 7 hours,” he said, further confirming the testimonies of other witnesses about the suffering they allegedly experienced under ulimo.

Although like other witnesses, the admitted seeing human heads and other body parts, Thursday’s witness denied the alleged killings were done by Kamara and ulimo. He claimed those killed were opponents. “I want to make it clear. They were not civilians. They were NPFL forces,” as his statement to Swiss prosecutors in 2019 was read in court on Thursday. The witness couldn’t testify in-person because Swiss authorities would not allow him travel to France to testify in Kamara’s trial. He’s currently in detention in Switzerland, as his claim for an asylum in Alieu Kosiah’s war crimes trial is under review.

The witness testimony in that trial, that he was a child soldier to Kosiah turned the case on its head, with legal analysts suggesting it was key to convict and sentence Kosiah, 47, to 20 years in jail for war crimes in Liberia. The case is however up for appeal in January 2023. The witness did also say in his statement that he was with Kosiah and Kamara during ulimo occupation of Foya. He claimed he also had a relationship with Kamara. “Kundi was my friend”. “All the big men in Lofa had small men. All the ULIMO soldiers had small soldiers with them,” he said as he responded to a question from Swiss prosecutors about the recruitment of child soldiers by ulimo.

The witness said both men had the same rank. “Kundi was a captain and Alieu Kosiah also. So, he can’t be the bodyguard to Alieu Kosiah”. Recruitment of child soldiers was common during Liberia’s civil wars, with all warring factions—including ULIMO and Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia accused of the act. Legal analysts say the witness testimony about Kamara are likely to sink his case just as it did in Kosiah’s trial. Kosiah will testify on Kamara’s behalf on Friday, a testimony court observers say could be key in deciding Kamara’s fate.

Earlier in the day the court heard from the eighth of nine plaintiffs in the trial, another man from Foya who gave his age as approximately 50. The plaintiff identified Kamara as the “Co Kundi” that terrorized his community of Lofa during the four months in 1993.

“This is Co Kundi,” he said, looking at the defendant in his glass security enclosure. “That man is this.”

The plaintiff echoed many of the claims of earlier plaintiff’s adding to the portrait of extensive crimes against humanity and terror during Kamara and Ulimo’s four-month occupation of Lofa.

He said Kamara committed multiple atrocities to him and others in his presence. In one instance, he said, Kamara hit him in the side of the head with a gun and gave him a bloody wound.

The man also said he was one of the young men forced to carry parts of the generator that had run the Burma Hospital before it was destroyed by Ulimo allegedly under Kamara’s command.

The plaintiff said most young men had hidden in the bush by day to avoid being caught by Kamara and his troops including Ugly Boy, Mami Water, Fofana and Deku. He saw the bodies of two who had been caught and killed.  The bodies had holes in their stomachs he said, from where internal organs had been removed.

The plaintiff told the court he was eventually caught and forced on two marches to the border at Kamara’s direction. He repeated the story told by a plaintiff yesterday of being forced to push a truck carrying the parts of the generator 23km to Solamba on the border with Guinea. When they arrived, the plaintiff alleged, Kamara called people from the Guinea side who bought the generator parts. They loaded the heavy parts into canoes to get them across the border. At the border Kamara’s troops bought rice which the men then had to carry back to Foya.

Kamara ordered the plaintiff to carry the heaviest parts of the machine. When he faltered, he said, Kamara beat him. 

“Co Kundi was beating me, kicking me,” the plaintiff said. Kamara, he said, told him “I will kill you and eat your heart if you refuse to carry the machine.”

The plaintiff said Kamara beat him all the way to the border and refused to give him water to drink.

Kunti Kamara has often chatted with his lead lawyer, Marilyne Secci at his trial. Credit: Leslie Lumeh/New Narratives

The plaintiff echoed a theme that has been heard from all the plaintiffs from Foya, all members of the Kissi ethnic group. They have claimed that there was anger between the Mandingo and Kissi groups before the war, including a land dispute. They have all claimed that Ulimo, made up of members of the Mandingo tribe, were using the war as an excuse to beat an old foe.

For his part Kamara has said he believes the people of Foya were sympathetic to Charles Taylor’s NPFL which Ulimo had expelled from the district at the start of their 1993 Foya invasion. He told the court his evidence was that the district had allegedly voted for Taylor in the 1997 presidential election.

The plaintiff also told of rampant sexual violence. Ulimo rebels took all the beautiful wives for themselves the he said. Every morning they would have sex with two or three women.

“God bless my wife is ugly so they didn’t take her,” the plaintiff said eliciting a rare laugh from the usually tense courtroom. 

A friend of the plaintiff named Joseph had challenged Ugly Boy after he took the friend’s sister as a sexual slave.

“The man was trying to defend his sister,” the plaintiff said. “He called the man. They get the man. They kill him.

He ended with a plea to the jurors:

“Please that thing that happened in Liberia. You must stop it so it doesn’t happen again.”

The trial continues Friday with the testimony, in person, of Alieu Kosiah, Kamara’s Ulimo ally who was convicted in his own war crimes trial in Switzerland in 2021. He is appealing that conviction. Kosiah will testify on behalf of Kamara.

This story is a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.