Giving evidence yesterday in defence of Issa Sesay of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), General Ismail Opande told the court that the accused was moderate, trustworthy, and cooperative towards the peace process.
General Opande, during cross examination by the defence lawyer Wayne Jordash about his perception of the accused, the witness said “he is a young man propelled into leadership but he had little experience in political acumen. He is very honest and shows respect to me as an elder.”
On the issue of the relationship of the civilians in their area, the witness told the court that Issa Sesay was concerned about the plight of civilians in RUF areas.
Questioned whether he did meet with Gibril Massaquoi and Mike Lamin and the type of persons they were, the witness said Gibril Massaquoi was claiming that he was a military man and played more political role in the RUF.
General Opande added that Gibril was part of the men strongly in support of Foday Sankoh and those who said they would not cooperate with the peace process until Sankoh was released. “He was defiant to instruction of Issa Sesay especially instruction to UNAMSIL that would facilitate their work. He was even opposed to the disarmament because the process was going to be done without the release of Foday Sankoh,” he noted.
Mike Lamin, the witness said, was almost the same as Gibril Massaquoi as he was a hardliner who did not get on well with Issa Sesay and did not respect Issa’s leadership.
General Opande earlier told the court that he first came to Sierra Leone in 2002 when some of his men were taken hostage by RUF personnel in the north and so he was sent on a fact finding mission to the country.
The witness told the court that they had the role to talk to Charles Taylor as he was the president of Liberia “and we believed that he had influence over the RUF so that he would facilitate the release of the hostages, and also to get the corpses of our men.” General Opande revealed to the court that they arranged a meeting with President Tejan Kabbah to arrange a meeting with Foday Sankoh who was incarcerated at the Pademba Road Prison which he did.
The witness said they were able to meet with Foday Sankoh and they informed him about their visit and that he [Sankoh] should gave orders to the RUF for the release of the hostages but Sankoh told them he could not until he was released.
The Force Commander at that time, the witness said, was General Vijay Jeetly and that he had the opportunity of meeting with him and Gen. Jeetly told him about the strange relationship between the RUF and ECOMOG.
Late in November 2002, he went on, he was appointed as the Force Commander before he took over office he was told that they should not be in contact with the RUF. “I was later told that Issa Sesay was the leader of the RUF and that he was handpicked by the ECOWAS leaders as they said Foday Sankoh was no longer trustworthy and Issa was a commander who could foster the disarmament process. General Opande noted that after his first briefing he arranged a meeting with Issa Sesay and that during their first meeting he told Issa that he was going to deploy in all areas which included the CDF, RUF and government areas of control; and that once this deployment was made Issa’s troops would no longer man the roads as they [UNAMSIL] would take over the protection. “The only thing Issa said was that I should allow him to go and sensitize his troops about UNAMSIL’s mandate,” he stated. By Betty Milton