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Liberians Mark 162 Years of Independence at Home and Abroad

Liberians at home and abroad are celebrating the 162nd independence anniversary of their country in many festive ways but with some reflections.

The official commemoration takes place Monday in the central city of Gbarnga. But for Liberians in the United States, the celebration began over the weekend.

The festivities on the grounds of the Liberian Embassy in northwest Washington, D.C. were complete with everything Liberian – the food, music, cultural performances and merchants peddling Liberian clothing and artifacts.

Liberia’s Ambassador to the United States, Milton Nathanial Barnes said he was pleased with the huge turnout.

“As you know, we sort of changed a little bit. So the theme of this festival is unity and diversity. And we have representation from all 15 counties of Liberia showing the rich diversity of our country but at the same time under the theme of unity. I’m very thrilled to see the level of participation here today,” he said.

Thousands of Liberians came to the United States in the 1990s during their country’s long civil war. They were granted Temporary Protect Protection Status (TPS), a special immigration status renewable on a yearly basis.

President Obama this year extended the TPS or Deferred Enforced Departure for another year to March 2010.

On the other hand, Canada announced last week that it would resume sending illegal immigrants back to Liberia, Burundi, and Rwanda because it said conditions in those countries have improved.

Ambassador Barnes said his embassy was working with Liberians in the United States to lobby the U.S. Congress for permanent resident status for Liberians on TPS.

“We are certainly concerned and we have tried to communicate to the Diaspora and those that are affected by the TPS program to move quickly to try to get regularized. And we are working with various groups in the Diaspora to..lobby on Congress to make sure that we get some sort of permanent solution to this problem,” Barnes said.

Liberians at the independence day celebration were also debating the final report and recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

Among others, the TRC recommended the banning of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and 51 others from participating in politics for the next 30 years for financing and giving political support to warring factions.

The commission also recommended the prosecution of all warring faction leaders and 98 other associates for human rights violations and war crimes.

Environmentalist Morris Koffa said the Liberian legislature and the government should implement the TRC report.

“I think the Truth and Reconciliation Committee was set up as a result of CPA from Ghana (Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in Ghana in 2003) and think the results that have come out of that should be respected by the government,” Koffa said.

Former Liberian Ambassador to the United States Rachel Diggs said she has not read the full TRC report. But she said some of the things she has heard about the report are unsettling to her.

“As I understood the mandate of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was that people would confess, people would be forgiven, and would be able to make a step forward to peace. And from the vibes that I’m getting, the TRC report has raised more concerns than sway or brought us closer to reconciliation,” Diggs said.

The official ceremonies in Liberia will take place Monday in the central city of Gbarnga.

But in a video message to Liberians in the Diaspora, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf called for unity and reconciliation.

“In the past, we have all sinned and suffered. Yet we can use this celebration as a new beginning for peace and reconciliation to promote and sustained development. We can use this as a basis for healing and renewal,” she said.

President Sirleaf said a marker of a truly great nation is the ability of its citizens to think about the nation before self. She said the war and its aftermath should not be allowed to define Liberians forever.