6 April 2017

Liberia: Bloody Day!

EXACTLY 21 YEARS AGO, MONROVIA WITNESSED ONE OF THE UNFORGETABLY BLOODIEST MOMENTS OF THE CIVIL WAR WHEN FORCES LOYAL TO THE NATIONAL PATRIOTIC FRONT OF LIBERIA (NPFL) OF CHARLES TAYLOR AND THE UNITED LIBERATION MOVEMENT (ULIMO-J), GEN. ROOSEVELT JOHNSON (DECEASED) LOCKED INTO FIERCE GUN BATTLE IN THE HEART OF SINKOR BEFORE IT CASCADED TO THE REST OF MONROVIA, COWARDING RESIDENTS INTO TREPIDATION WHILE OTHERS FLED INTO SAFETY. ON THIS, APRIL 6, 1996:

-Reflecting On The Evil Of April 6, 1996

Today marks the 21st anniversary of April 6, 1996, the day the city of Monrovia and its already beleaguered residents endured one of the worst moments of the civil war.

April 6 erupted as Liberians anticipated

Dozens of Liberians lost their lives on this day when fighting broke out in Monrovia on Saturday, April 6, 1996 between the combined forces of the NPFL of Charles Taylor, ULIMO-K of Alhaji G. V. Kromah and the police force made up of members of both groups attacked the home of Gen. Roosevelt Johnson.

So-called government forces attempted arresting Gen. Roosevelt Johnson, then a member of the government, for the death of one Dweh Barwu. The comatose body of Barwu was found near the fence of Gen. Johnson on 19th Street, and the government thought it was prudent to have invited him (Gen. Johnson) to give account of what happened.

But the ULIM-J leader did not take lightly the action of his colleagues on the council as his forces resisted attempt to arrest him. The situation resultantly cascaded into full-blown conflict and lasted for weeks before calm returned to Monrovia.

By the morning hours of April 6, the main Tubman Boulevard became a no-go zone, the entire 19th Street enclave impassible, while gun-tooting personnel domed in ratcheted trousers and shirts roamed everywhere, threatening to harm residents as tension mounted.

Johnson escaped but the fighting forces rained terror on Monrovia, vandalizing, looting and killing thousands of residents. Though the commotion started with the discovery of the body of Barwu, military and political experts believed it had a far different motive.

Those who close to scene said it was a chilling blood bath when the situation metamorphosed into a fight between bitter rivals, ULIMO-J and NPFL, rifting the city apart and leaving the population vulnerable with more than 18,000 persons internally displaced.

Eyewitness' account

Providing insight into the April 6 scenario at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Public Hearing, Armah Youlo, one of the founders of the faction (ULIMO) which later split into two, revealed that ULIMO-J head Roosevelt Johnson received US$40,000.00 from then Councilman Charles Taylor to fight the rival ULIMO faction led by Alhaji Kromah.

Mr. Youlo said Mr. Taylor also gave Johnson a black cow and 400 bags of rice to fight what Taylor termed as the "Mandingo people." Youlo said during a meeting with Taylor he was informed that Johnson had requested support to prosecute the war against the rival ULIMO faction.

However, he said he sensed Taylor made the gesture to Johnson in order for him to turn over control of the central Liberian highway town of Salala, Bong County.

He said Taylor wanted control of the town because ULIMO-J forces occupying the town were regularly harassing members of the NPFL en route to Monrovia to attend the joint ceasefire monitoring committee meeting.

Mr. Youlo said that the donation led to serious confusion within the ULIMO-J faction, as majority of Johnson's ethnic Krahn kinsmen demanded that he returned Taylor's donation. But he said the ULIMO-J leader remained arrogant and persistently refused to return the gift.

He said that this led to the removal in 1996 of Mr. Johnson as leader of the ULIMO-J faction. Youlo added that the refusal of General Johnson to heed their demands led to split in the ULIMO-J faction that led to the death of one Dweh Barwu around Johnson's Sinkor residence and sparked the April 6, 1996 Monrovia fighting. The United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO) was a rebel group that participated in the Liberian Civil War from 1989-1996.

ULIMO was formed in May 1991 by Krahn refugees and soldiers who had fought in the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) fighters. It was led by Raleigh Seekie, a deputy Minister of Finance in the Doe government. After fighting alongside the Sierra Leonean army against the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), ULIMO forces entered western Liberia in September 1991. The group scored significant gains in areas held by another rebel group - the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), notably around the diamond mining areas of Lofa and Bomi counties.

From its outset, ULIMO was beset with internal divisions and the group effectively broke into two separate militias in 1994: ULIMO-J, an ethnic Krahn faction led by General Roosevelt Johnson, and ULIMO-K, a Mandingo-based faction led by Alhaji G.V. Kromah.

ULIMO-J was poorly ruled, which led to leadership struggles and general discontent among its fighters. It had approximately 8,000 combatants. ULIMO-K was relatively united under Kromah, in contrast to the fractious nature of the ULIMO-J. It had approximately 12,000 combatants.

The group, both before and after its breakup, committed serious violations of human rights.

About Charles Taylor:

He returned to Liberia in 1989 as the head of a Libyan-backed rebel group, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, to overthrow the Doe regime, initiating the First Liberian Civil War (1989-96). Following Doe's execution, Taylor gained control of a large portion of the country and became one of the most prominent warlords in Africa. Following a peace deal that ended the war, Taylor was elected president in the 1997 general election.

During his term of office, Taylor was accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity as a result of his involvement in the Sierra Leone Civil War (1991-2002). Domestically, opposition to his regime grew, culminating in the outbreak of the Second Liberian Civil War (1999-2003). By 2003, Taylor had lost control of much of the countryside and was formally indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

That year, he resigned, as a result of growing international pressure, and went into exile in Nigeria. In 2006, the newly elected President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, formally requested his extradition. He was detained by UN authorities in Sierra Leone and then at the Penitentiary Institution Haaglanden in The Hague, awaiting trial by the Special Court. He was found guilty in April 2012 of all eleven charges levied by the Special Court, including terror, murder and rape. In May 2012, Taylor was sentenced to 50 years in prison. Reading the sentencing statement, Presiding Judge Richard Lussick said: "The accused has been found responsible for aiding and abetting as well as planning some of the most heinous and brutal crimes recorded in human history.

About David Roosevelt Johnson:

Roosevelt Johnson (died October 23, 2004) was a Liberian who led a rebel group during the country's civil war. He is a member of the Krahn ethnic group. A former teacher, Johnson joined the rebel group United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO) soon after the war began. ULIMO split into two factions in 1994: United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy-Kromah faction (ULIMO-K) led by Alhaji G.V. Kromah and the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy-Johnson faction (ULIMO-J), which was led by Johnson.

Johnson had 6 sons in Liberia. Jotham, his eldest, would take care of the rest of his brothers while Johnson had been on rebel missions. Nigel, Justin, Rob, Hye and Igor had lived without knowing much about their father, as Johnson had hardly been home to care for them.

Fighters loyal to Johnson triggered the first major violation of the Abuja Accord in December 1995, resisting ECOMOG deployment around the diamond mines near Tubmanburg. He was dismissed from the ULIMO-J leadership in early 1996.

Like many involved in the Liberian civil war, Johnson was known to use mercenary fighters to further his causes. One notable example was his funding of Joshua Milton Blahyi, commonly known as General Butt Naked. The General commanded a brigade of drunken or otherwise intoxicated young teenage boys who would fight naked or in women's clothing because of a belief that it would protect them from bullets. Such was the mix of politics, semi-religious belief, uneducated leaders, drugs and utter fall of civil society that typified the Liberian conflict.

On 20 September 1998, following government accusations earlier that month that it had foiled a coup attempt, there was a shootout near the American embassy, between fighters loyal to Johnson and President Charles Taylor's troops. It left at least 50 people dead. The gun battle was described by some observers as a deliberate attempt by Taylor's forces to gun down Johnson and many of his followers.

Johnson fled to the United States Embassy and was then transported out of the country to Nigeria. He was charged with treason and convicted in absentia, in April 1999. He died in 2004 in Nigeria.

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