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Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission Re-Launches Investigations


Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission has again started gathering testimony about atrocities committed during the nation's civil wars ending in 2003 and the years leading up to the wars. The commission began its work in October 2006, but had to halt the probe in November because of a lack of funds. Kari Barber reports from Dakar that while some say they are happy the commission is back in operation, others say a reconciliation commission is not enough, they want a war crimes court. Journalist Prince Collins in Monrovia contributed to this report.

Dozens of Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) investigators have dispersed across the countryside to collect testimonies about abuses, murders and rapes that happened during more than two decades of civil conflict.

A year after their initial launch, the TRC was able to begin work again after receiving funds from the United Nations Development Program and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

TRC Executive Director Nathaniel Kwabo says now he just hopes Liberians will come forward.

"Now with the TRC process, it has given us the opportunity to really look the bull in the eye and tell ourselves, 'This is what we did. This is where we were in the wrong. Can we exercise the ghosts of the past and move ahead?'" he said.

Kwabo says the purpose of the TRC is to establish the groundwork for reconciliation and to face problems that have plagued the war-battered nation.

"We have always swept our problems under the rug," he added. "This is evident by the fact that we had 14 or more peace agreements since the war started. That means we never grappled, we never confronted the conflict."

Paul Solomon of Monrovia, a victim of the violence, came to give his testimony to the commission.

"My wife was killed right in front of me by those rebels, criminals," he said.

Solomon says the men who killed his wife still walk the streets free.

"I feel so bad and hurt, it pains me a lot to see them passing around," he added.

He says although giving his testimony helps, he wants the men who killed his wife to be punished.

"I hope justice can take its course and I will be happy, satisfied that those criminals who killed my wife - my beloved wife - will be brought to justice," he said.

Chairman for the Forum for the Establishment of a War Crimes Tribunal Mulbah Morlue says a truth commission does not go far enough to bring justice to the victims. The commission is not a court and is not designed to judge those who have committed crimes.

He says those guilty of war crimes and human rights abuses should face trial.

"The TRC cannot put in place a deterrence measure that will avert the occurrence of war," he explained. "We are not only talking about crimes that were committed in the last several years of decadence, but we are concerned about putting an end to the impunity so that we can live in perpetual peace and a stabilized democratic environment."

The TRC, styled after a similar commission in South Africa, was part of a 2003 peace agreement. After gathering testimonies, the next step for the commission will be to hold public hearings to allow people to talk about what they have done and what they have suffered.

Former Liberia President Charles Taylor is on trial for war crimes in The Hague. Taylor is accused of masterminding and funding Liberia and neighboring Sierra Leone's intertwined civil wars through the use of conflict diamonds.

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