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Liberia's Truth Commission Denies Reports of Suspension

Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission is denying reports that the commission has ceased work because of a lack of funding. A commission spokeswoman told VOA Thursday that a recent halt in field research was previously scheduled. Meanwhile, critics of the commission are continuing to push for a war crimes court. For VOA, Kari Barber reports from Dakar.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Liberia was formed earlier this year to document first-hand accounts of murders, rapes and other crimes committed during years of recently ended conflict.

The commission was designed after South Africa's commission with the aim of giving the opportunity for victims to speak and victimizers to apologize.

After three weeks of operations in the field the commission, known locally as the TRC, has called in its researchers.

Reports came out that the recall was a result of a lack of cash. TRC spokeswoman Juliane Westphal says this is inaccurate.

"It is not the reason it was put on hold," she said. "There is a lack, which will be amended now. But it was always planned to stop the statement taking to look at the prompts, to revise the prompts, and then take it up again."

Westphal says the commission is struggling with a lack of funds because of pledges that have failed to materialize. But the commission is still talking with partners and making proposals to deal with this shortage.

"It is true that there is a constant lack of money flow and funds, and constantly we have to take great care to stick to our plan because of that," she added.

Westphal says pay has been delayed for statement takers. She says the situation will be corrected on Monday.

Some Liberian critics say struggles within the TRC support their position that the country does not need a truth and reconciliation commission. They say it needs a war crimes tribunal with the power to prosecute.

Bodioh Siapoe, a Liberian activist living in America and a former spokesman for rebel groups, says he sees this as a breakdown of the commission. Siapoe says people want to see war criminals tried in court.

"It is what the people want," he noted. "As I said, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is just a joke. This is what all of us expected that this thing would just break down. It has broken down."

Siapoe says he believes for true reconciliation, the country needs to rid itself of former warlords who are in positions of power and were also elected as lawmakers.

"From day one I would go for a war crimes tribunal, because a lot of people in my country who contributed to this insane war are in top positions," he added. "Because until we can bring those people to court, there is not going to be real peace in our country. So I support a war crimes tribunal over a TRC which is neither clear nor transparent nor accountable to the people."

Boakai Jalerba is secretary general of a group advocating the establishment of a war crimes court in Liberia. He says the truth commission is protecting perpetrators from justice.

"We believe the TRC forum is a crafted forum designed to shield those warlords and those people who have committed crimes against humanity, against the victims," he said.

Spokeswoman Westphal says that there should not be competition between the truth commission and a war crimes tribunal because the two would have different mandates. However, she says, it is best if they do not operate simultaneously.

"It always sounds as if there is a competition with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the War Crimes Tribunal," she said. "Of course, two bodies like that influence each other and they can act like in Sierra Leone where special courts actually had a bad influence on TRC work."

Westphal says after revising the questions used by statement takers, the next period of statement gathering will begin in December.