Former fighters in Liberia's civil war are making statements before the country's ongoing Truth And Reconciliation Commission, trying to move on by admitting what they did. VOA's Nico Colombant caught up in Monrovia with a former child soldier turned commander and now a family man.
With roosters crowing in the background in the Old Matadi Estate neighborhood, Joseph Duo, 31, explains how he joined Liberia's brutal civil war, 17 years ago, when he was a 14-year-old high school student in Liberia's capital.
"When I went to go see the fighters, they arrested one of my best friends and then right before me, they cut his head off and then that hurt me a lot," he said. "I just felt bad for that whole time. I told my mother we have to move from here, you are not safe. So we left the place, but then while we were traveling from area to area, I used to dream. In my dreams, I was always a military man, a big fighter in my dreams, and I was commanding a lot of people so I told my mother, 'I cannot stand here, I have to go.'"
Duo is small but fearless, and he became the commander of a so-called "small boys unit" of pre-teens and teenagers fighting for Charles Taylor, the former warlord turned Liberian president, now on trial in The Hague for crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone.
Mr. Taylor says he is the victim of an international conspiracy. Duo says he believed in what he calls Taylor's revolution for a free Liberia, and he says he joined so he could discipline other fighters.
"So, people have to go in the mix of them to educate them on how to fight a civil war," he added. "Because the people that were fighting, they were according to themselves at the time, they said they were freedom fighters, [but] you cannot cut the citizens' head and rape the whatever of the citizens, and burn down the towns and villages and then you say you are freedom fighters."
He denies killing any civilians, but he says he regrets fighting brutally against Liberians from other fighting groups, which he calls by their acronyms.
"Everything I did, I feel bad because the LURD were fighting, and the ULIMO were fighting and they are all Liberians," he explained. "So if you stand back there and as you might say… I fire, I kill you, I feel bad. I feel bad for what happened."
Making a statement before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, known as the TRC, is one the best things he says he has done.
"I feel better because it was something like a disease that was in me," he said. "Once I give it all, I express it all, I mean it can be a cure. So I was so happy to tell the whole world and through TRC it was one of the areas to do so."
Duo says he still feels the weight of war both mentally and physically.
"I feel hurt a lot. I received 78 bullet wounds all over my body, so every time I feel bad, anytime my mind go under," he said.
Duo is now a theology student and a family man with three children, including an energetic boy who resembles him.
He says he wants his son to become a soccer player.