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Former Liberian Warlord Sets Conditions for His Appearance Before Truth Commission

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 says he's prepared to appear before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to explain his role in the war.

The TRC was set up to look into the root causes of Liberia's conflicts from 1979 to 2003 and make it possible, where necessary, to hold perpetrators accountable for human rights violations.

Prince Johnson was once a lieutenant of former Liberian President Charles Taylor's rebel movement. He then broke off and founded the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL) rebel group. Now senior senator from Nimba County, Johnson told VOA he's ready to tell the TRC what he knows but first he wants the chairman, Jerome Verdier and another member, Sheikh Kafumba Konneh, to remove themselves from the commission because of their past affiliations.

"They (the Commission) wrote me a letter and said to me during their statement taking, there are some people who complained about me of violating their rights. So I said okay if that be the case, then I'm prepared to meet the people whose rights I violated, according to them. If it is true and it's not true, I'm prepared to meet with them face to face. I will appear there and tell them that I've come for the Liberian people to hear my true story and to say sorry to those I know I did things to and to look in the faces of those other people and tell them you are a damned liar because you come to lie on me. They paid you," he said.

Johnson said the TRC also wants to know his role in the death of former Liberian President Samuel Doe. But he said he would not tell the commission anything because his family and the Doe family have already forgiven each other.

"That was the first time they invited me to explain about Samuel Doe, and said that cannot come from my mouth because Samuel Doe and my family – Grand Gedeh and Nimba County – have reconciled. We have put the past behind us and moving forward, united as one group of people. So coming back to explain how Doe died is like digging old wounds. We are not prepared for that," Johnson said.

He said he rejected the commission's argument that Samuel Doe was a sitting president when he was killed and therefore he Johnson must explain his role in Doe's death.

"They argued that Doe was a sitting president. So the government of Liberia through the TRC wants me to appear to talk about Samuel Doe and I said that it cannot work because we have sealed this reconciliation and unity in the church of God, and we vowed never ever to mention this. Grand Gedeh is forgiven for whatever their children did to our people in Nimba. We have forgiven them for all of what they did to us. So we don't want to dig old wounds," Johnson said.

Johnson said if the Truth Commission insists on him testifying about his role in the death of Doe, then the Commission must also call those he said killed President William Tolbert during the 1980 coup.

"They said Doe was a sitting president you must appear. Then I said if Doe was a sitting president then (William) Tolbert was a sitting president that was butchered by Doe and his cohorts. And many of them are still in government today. Why is it that you are not inviting them first because Tolbert was killed before Doe was killed," Johnson said.

He said TRC chairman Jerome Verdier and another member, Sheikh Kafumba Konneh, are not qualified to judge him because of their past affiliations.

"This is exactly what I am going to face them to say that they are not qualified because during the 1985 coup when (Thomas) Quiwonkpa invaded this country, I was with Quiwonkpa. I saw Jerome Verdier, he had a placard written on it monkey must come, that is Doe, must come down. He was a student activist. If that is the same man I know, then he is not qualified to sit on that TRC as a chairman before whom I should appear. Sheikh Kafumba Konneh must also come to tell his story. He knew Doe was living when he went to The Gambia and voted for Amos Sawyer to become the interim president. They all founded ULIMO (United Liberation of Liberia for Democracy). He was part of it," Johnson said.

Johnson said there are what he called bigger elephants that the TRC must call to explain their role in the Liberian civil war, including current national security advisor H. Boima Fahnbulleh and Harry Greaves, managing director of the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company.

"He's advisor on national security, I'm a chairman of the Senate Committee on National Security. But we all must come before the TRC. There should be no sacred cow here. Harry Greaves supported Quiwonkpa in 1985. They provided the pickups that were used. All of them sit down and pretend they don't know nothing, then I must go start opening my mouth and call their names and explain their role in total. Then in the night they come and send armed robbers on me. But that would be disastrous because I'm not alone. I trust God, I believe in God," he said.

Johnson said he does not want to be called a hero for his role in the civil war because he was only defending his Nimba ethnic group whom he said were being slaughtered by former President Doe's ethnic Krahn group.

"I cannot describe myself as a hero. My people were being slaughtered. They were butchered in this country. You are an international journalist; you should have the recording in your studio when the Nimba people were asked to leave their county. We could not leave our county. We had to stand to defend it," Johnson said.

Johnson said the only regret he has about the war is that Grand Gedeh and Nimba citizens fought and killed each other.

"My only regret is that Grand and Nimba Counties that shared common border, that inter-marry had to be the one to fight each other in combat. That's the regret. That should not have been because we share common border and we called each other brother-in-laws. So when brother-in-laws start to battle one another in a bloody way, that is not a good thing to see. So we all regret," Johnson said.