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Former Liberian Rebel Leader Says He's Not a Cannibal

The man who is believed to have captured and killed former Liberian President Samuel Doe at the start of the country's civil war in 1990 has made his long-awaited appearance before the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to explain his role in the war. Prince Johnson says he told the TRC that Doe's body was cremated and his ashes thrown into a river.

But Doe's family led by Jackson Doe, the late president's brother is claiming that Johnson and his Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL) rebels committed cannibalism.

But Johnson, who is now senior senator from Nimba County, told VOA he's not a cannibal.

"I told Liberians and the international community that when Doe died on the base because of series of injuries he was embalmed for 25 years and buried. But along the way, months or a year two later, there was a dirty propaganda that was propagated from the Amos Sawyer (former interim president) camp that we did not bury Doe, that we ate Doe. And of course we from Nimba are not cannibals," he said.

To disprove what he called propaganda, Johnson said he instructed his deputy commander Samuel Varnii to use a bulldozer to break the vault in which Doe's body had been placed and exhume Doe's body to prove it had been buried there.

"And they brought the body of Doe, and it was as hard as a rock, and international journalists took photographs of Samuel Doe after which it was decided by consensus that Doe should not be reburied in the grave but should be burnt and the ashes be thrown into the river. And that is exactly what we did," he said.

Johnson said people from his region of Nimba County are not cannibals, a direct response to allegations by the Doe family that he and members of his Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL) rebels ate Doe's body.

"The Nimbaians are not cannibals. Even if I was a cannibal, I did not eat Doe because he was embalmed with chemicals for 25 years. So if they can eat human beings with chemicals, we don't eat human beings with chemicals," Johnson said.

In an interview with VOA weeks before his appearance before the Truth Commission, Johnson said he had reconciled with the Doe family in Nigeria about the death of President Doe. Now Johnson said he did not tell the family what he told the TRC concerning his treatment of Doe's body.

"We reconciled in Nigeria, the question of what happened to Doe, where was Doe was not asked. It was not important to them at that time. When I came to Liberia and Jackson Doe (Doe's brother) and I were moving back and forth talking together at official ceremonies and so forth, he did not ask, not until I got to the TRC," Johnson said.

Liberian government sources told VOA that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has been trying to reconcile both the Doe and Johnson families. Johnson himself says the way forward is to forget the past.

"They killed a lot of people in this country that got no graves. They killed Thomas Quiwonkpa, no grave, they killed Weh Syen no grave, they killed so many people at Lutheran Church no grave, there was massacre of the people of Nimba County in this country, no graves. So the way forward is to forget the past, is to reconcile despite the bitterness because people lost people on all sides. So let us just forget the past. That's the way forward," he said.

Johnson said Liberia's future would be doomed if Liberians chose to return to their past.

Johnson laid he should not be blamed for any killings he might have committed because he said the country was at war. On the other hand, he blamed the late Samuel Doe for killing many innocent people.

"There was a war in this country. Mine was war. When Thomas Quiwonkpa (led an attempted coup in 1985) came to this country with a bloodless coup no one was killed. When coup failed the afternoon of November 12, 1985, the reprisal was the bloodiest reprisal in the history of Liberia, and the bloodiest reprisal was carried out by the regime of Doe upon the orders of Samuel Doe himself. So why should we talk about one Samuel Doe? Why don't we talk about great men and women and children of this country that were slaughtered in cold blood," Johnson said.