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Former Liberian President Taylor's Imprint Still Felt in Guinea


While former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, is being tried in The Hague for alleged war crimes in Sierra Leone, his imprint is still being felt in the neighboring country of Guinea as well. Some of his fighters repeatedly attacked villages there in 2000 and 2001. Women are only starting to recover from being kidnapped and abused, while former fighters who remained in Guinea also feel persecuted. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from the village of Bokoni, near the borders with Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Birds chirp in a courtyard as Ouidoh Sorogoui spins yarn at the entrance of her home, making clothes for other villagers.

She recounts harrowing tales from the Taylor era.

Taylor-backed Revolutionary United Front fighters from Sierra Leone along with soldiers from Liberia's army, and fighters recruited from refugee camps in Guinea, repeatedly attacked this village in 2000 and 2001.

Her husband was killed. Women, including herself, were taken hostage, to become porters, cooks, and sexual slaves.

Sorogui explains how she was forced to steal from other people's farms at gunpoint. She says younger women were raped. She says at one point she was asked to walk on all fours naked, but refused and asked to be killed instead.

Sorogui says she finally escaped, naked, walking through forest back to her village.

During her ordeal, she tore up an ankle, which has now doubled in size. So, she sits and spins yarn to stay off her feet.

Other former victims who are helped by a local non-governmental organization sell vegetable oil at a market in the nearby town of Macenta.

Aid worker Amadou Oury Bah has been helping women with similar stories from 40 villages and towns.

"Most of these women suffered from sexual abuse and have been used as sexual slaves," he said. "They carried out some manual labor and [were] kept in cages without movement."

Guinea's army finally chased away Taylor's fighters from this region and then backed rebels who along with another group of fighters, backed by Ivory Coast, helped force Mr. Taylor into exile. The former Liberian president was then extradited from Nigeria and eventually sent to The Hague for trial, for his alleged crimes in Sierra Leone.

Bah says that for people affected by this turbulent time in West Africa's history wounds of war go away much slower than the fighting.

"We found upon their return that most of these women were stigmatized and some of them were rejected by their husbands and some relatives," he added.

A regional government official in charge of women's issues, Marguerite Guilavogui, says men rejected these women after saying they had been passed on from one fighter to the next. She says some husbands abandoned them, and that the war also created many widows and orphans.

Many women also never returned. Bah tries to track down minors who disappeared, including one young girl who was kidnapped when she was a toddler.

"She was about three years old when she was adopted by the rebels and taken to Liberia in Lofa county," he explained. "According to information we received, she was there with one of the rebel leaders, who felt threatened and fled from Liberia to Ghana. Since then, we have had no information about the little girl."

Bah says he is trying to help the hundreds of women who did come back. He wants to make them more independent and confident in themselves with revenue generating projects, like making soap.

Abraham Bility helps former Liberian and Sierra Leonean child soldiers who feel persecuted now that the fighting is over.

"They are still considering anyone who can speak English, they consider you as somebody who is supporting Charles Taylor," he said.

Many are too afraid to go back to their home countries where they think the situation would be worse for them. Many were recruited as fighters in refugee camps, from groups that had fled Liberia following the start of the initial Charles Taylor-led rebellion, which began in 1989.

"We have 112 children who were involved in the war during the Charles Taylor regime," added Mr. Bility. "We are trying to talk to the community now, the quarter chief, the prefect, the governor of this forest region to allow them to move freely but they consider them to be the troublemakers in the community."

Back in Bokoni, in another courtyard, Mari, 13, is doing dishes. Her mother was taken away from her by rebels during the war, and then died after returning to the village.

Mari says she never wants to see another armed man disrupt her peaceful village, or anywhere else in Guinea.

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