Liberians Fear For Stability After Charles Taylor Verdict

(AFP) – Liberians shed few tears for Charles Taylor after their ex-president was found guilty of war crimes Thursday but there were fears his conviction could undermine a still fragile peace.

A large number of Liberian police and UN soldiers were deployed in downtown Monrovia as a UN-backed court handed down its verdict on Taylor for fuelling war-time atrocities in neighbouring Sierra Leone in exchange for diamonds.

Taylor was Liberia’s president from 1997 to 2003 after being elected by compatriots who had hoped that he would put a halt to their own civil war.

There was to be no let-up, as rebels rose up against Taylor in 1999, forcing him to flee to Nigeria in 2003 from where he was later extradited to The Hague.

Taylor retains significant pockets of support back home.

The government on Thursday called “on all Liberians, irrespective of our social and political difference, to respect the verdict of the special court and continue to pray for enduring peace and unity in the nation.”

But there is also deep bitterness in Liberia where the atrocities Taylor caused as warlord and president have gone unpunished.

“This will serve as a deterrent for other African leaders who like to suck innocent blood,” said Monrovia resident Mohamed Keita as he digested the verdict from the Netherlands in a bar in the Liberian capital.

Keita was one of many Liberians who had been keeping a close eye on events near The Hague where Taylor became the first former head of state to be found guilty by an international court since the 1946 Nuremberg trials.

Samuel Yarkpah, a doctor in Monrovia, bemoaned that others who had blood on their hands were still at large, both in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

“Charles Taylor was tried only for what he did in Sierra Leone. But people have done worse than that in Liberia and today they are in Liberia, free to move around. Nothing has been done about that,” Yarkpah, 37, told AFP.

Taylor led a group of rebels into Liberia in 1989 in a bid to overthrow the hated regime of Samuel Doe, a move which descended into bloody civil war with a panoply of warring factions.

Taylor’s NPFL and units of child soldiers carried out massacres, torture and terrorised the population, placing human heads and entrails on sticks at checkpoints to incite fear.

Since Ellen Johnson Sirleaf took power in 2005, Liberia has managed to turn its back on conflict but the situation remains fragile as evidenced by the tensions over her re-election last year which the opposition said was fixed.

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report released in 2009 named Taylor among those who should be prosecuted for war crimes, and suggested a list of people including Sirleaf be barred from office.

Sirleaf admitted financing Taylor in the early days of his rebellion before she realised the extent of his atrocities.

For Anita Williams, another resident of Monrovia, Thursday’s verdict should not be a cause for celebration but could instead be a portent for trouble.

“This verdict against president Taylor should not be seen as a victory or justice. We have to start thinking on how this is to affect the fragile peace in Liberia,” said the 49-year-old.

“If you look up in the sky, you will see the dark cloud surrounding the sun. It is not a good sign for our country. The Lord is trying to tell us that there are still problems ahead.”

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