Friday, February 13, 2009

Liberia: Liberian President claims she was misled by Taylor

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's long-awaited testimony before the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) finally took place Thursday. The President had been accused by others testifying before the commission of soliciting financial support for former President Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebels to overthrow President Samuel K. Doe.

Massa Washington, a member of the TRC, told VOA President Sirleaf admitted being a sympathizer of the cause to overthrow Samuel Doe but that she was never a member of the rebel group.

"The president did state that there was no time that she was ever in military uniform. But she did admit that yes she visited Mr. Taylor in the early days in Nimba County. She also clarified that she has never being a member of NPFL but had been a sympathizer. She wasn't with them when they formed the NPFL; she was never part of any of their meeting. She's not an executive of the NPFL, never was. However she sympathized like a lot of people were doing at that time, and in so doing she tried to solicit moral assistance for the cause of the NPFL but not necessarily as an NPFL founder or executive," she said.

President Sirleaf's appearance before the commission had been on and off. At one point and after expressing her desire to appear, the president said she did not want to create a spectacle and would prefer narrating her role in the war in a book.

Massa Washington said the Truth Commission is pleased now that the president has finally testified.

"We are actually glad she testified. You know the president is the number 1 citizen of the land, and the TRC process is a key component of the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement that brought in this new government. But it enhances the rule of law. We wanted to make sure that at this particular point in time that no one was above the law," Washington said.

She denied the Commission kept President Sirleaf's appearance in secrecy by allowing only a hand-picked group of journalists to witness the President's testimony, and also for not broadcasting the testimony live as the commission had been doing with most of its hearings.

"The testimony was not carried live. It was part of a special arrangement to accommodate the office of the president. Under the constitution, we are obliged to show respect for the presidency. So the president wasn't comfortable appearing at the commission at the Centennial Pavilion. She did not want the bigger crowd. As you know sometime the crowd there can be a bit rowdy, and for security reasons she felt comfortable coming to the offices of the TRC, so the commission decided to work along with her. There was an array of journalists from all sectors of media. And so the media coverage was not really restricted per se. The space couldn't accommodate every journalist in the land. There were recordings. As we speak now those recordings are being played on the radio for the benefit of the general public," Washington said.

Published with the permission of Voice of America
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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