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A Former Liberian Rebel Leader Denies Committing Atrocities During Civil War

Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings are in full swing now that many of the major actors in the country's conflicts from 1979 to 2003 have been testifying before the commission.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's national security advisor H. Boima Fahnbulleh, who served as the first minister of education in the military government of Samuel Doe in the 1980s, testified this week and said he owes no apology for his role in the military government.

Alhaji G.V. Kromah, who led one of the two factions of the rebel United Liberation Movement (ULIMO) also appeared before the commission this week and reportedly broke down in tears, saying he was sorry for the atrocities committed during Liberia's 14-year civil war.

Kromah told VOA the TRC process is giving Liberians the opportunity to analyze their country's history and identify those factors that led to problems.

"The TRC public hearing is a very good exercise in history in accountability because it is bringing out testimonies that reflect on the actual events that led to other events up to this point. It also gives the opportunity for us to analyze the beginning of our history to identify those factors that led to problems after many decades," he said.

Kromah denied testifying before the TRC that Liberia's 14-year civil was waged principally out of greed and power. Instead he said his movement was invited by West African peacekeepers to help repel attacks by Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rebels in the Liberian capital, Monrovia and to force the NPFL to adhere to signed agreements.

"First of all I didn't say that the whole thing was over power and greed. Everybody didn't fight because of power struggle. We were making reference to the NPFL and the political people who were in Monrovia. They started the first interaction. We are not rebels. We were a resistance movement. Rebels are those who revolt or fight constituted authorities. We were refugees who had no choice but to come in to flush out the attacks by the NPFL. The purpose of our own operation was ensure that the various agreements signed between the AFL (Armed Forces of Liberia) and the NPFL were adhered to," Kromah said.

He said while some members of his movement might have committed criminal acts, they did not commit atrocities.

"I am saying we were not saints. Some of our people harassed people; stole some things from people; in our battles some people may have gotten wounded through crossfire. These different types of things that we were aware of, we apologize for that. But I can tell you when it comes to that word "atrocity", it means it's intentional killing and torture of civilians. That was not our business," he said.

Kromah said the TRC process should be about reconciliation and not to bring criminal charges against certain individuals because Liberia's civil war directly or indirectly affected almost everyone in the country and in the West Africa sub-region.

"The key thing here is that this is not a prosecution unit acting like a CID (Criminal Investigation Division) or police to try to put together charges this and that. That may be included. But the key here is reconciliation, and one has to be careful to note also that if you invite people to come and tell nothing but the truth, in other words they are confessing, our constitution Article 21 does not allow anyone to furnish criminal evidence against himself," he said. A lot of people are afraid that if you want to try to make it a criminal procedure, you will have to almost try everybody in this country and the sub-region because one way or the other hundreds of people were involved directly or indirectly, including some heads of state and former heads of state around the sub-region," Kromah said.

Kromah recommended that a national conference be held to review the work of the TRC to see where to go next.