Saturday, March 24, 2012

Liberia: An Eyewitness Account Of The September 18 1998 Massacre

An Eyewitness Account Of The September 18 Massacre
By E. Barchue Lloyd

The event that climaxed the Camp Johnson Road incident started with the usual government accusations of people wanting to destabilize the country and overthrow the government. These accusations lingered until Roosevelt Johnson went to the United States for medical treatment several months ago. When Johnson returned home surreptitiously, Taylor's fear heightened and his comfort level dropped disastrously low. Accusations and counter-accusations were traded between the two former warlords. In late August, ECOMOG prevented a near disaster when Johnson was stopped by his loyalists from attending a consultative meeting at the Executive Mansion. His supporters claimed government forces would have killed Johnson at the Mansion. In the melee, a loyalist of Johnson was shot at close range by a Ghanaian ECOMOG officer on Camp Johnson Road.

Eyewitness accounts indicate that security forces attacked Johnson loyalists on Friday, September 18, at about six o'clock local time in the evening. This time, it was a pre-emptive strike by a column of well-armed troops under the command of Chucky Taylor, the president's notorious and drug-addicted son. Chucky had recruited and trained people in Gbatala, Bong County, to form an elite armed group that was not accountable to any security agency, including the Ministry of National Defense. It was this group of bandits with the aid of the ruthless Executive Mansion Special Security Unit (EMSSU) and the marauding Special Operations Division of the National Police, that executed the attack.

In a nation-wide radio statement shortly after the attack, Charles Taylor congratulated his men for what he described as a "surgical operation with precision and swiftness." This "surgical operation", however, resulted into a nightmarish national tragedy in which more 1000 people were killed.

The Massacre:
Two days after the shooting, the government officially announced that only 15 persons lost their lives. "The swiftness with which the operation was carried out," Taylor said, "resulted in the minimal loss of lives and the destruction of property."
Following the statement, however, relief workers from the Red cross and the French NGO, Medicin Sans Frontier, reported that they had buried more than 40 bodies. Local hospitals reported that they had more than 100 bodies in their morgues. At the government owned John F. Kennedy Hospital, nearly 70 bodies were placed outside the already packed morgue for identification. The regime soon abandoned the identity scheme when the number of bodies began rapidly swelling. The figures even rose faster by the day as the horrors of what really happened on that fateful Friday became self-evident and self-revealing.

The Venue of the Massacre:
The grisly killing and its associated rapes, torture and vandalism, which brought the tyrannical tendency of the regime to the fore, occurred at four locations, according to eyewitness accounts.
A. Camp Johnson Road: The shooting and massive killing of the Krahn people began in this central area of Monrovia which has no connection with the name of Roosevelt Johnson, who by coincidence lived there along with a huge population of displaced fellow ethnic Krahn members. When terrified civilians ran into the St. Thomas Church on the same street, government forces stood at the door and shot into the building. Only three persons are reported to have survived out of sixty who sought refuge there.

B. Old Internal Affairs Ministry Building: This building at the end of Camp Johnson Road served as a camp for nearly 1000 displaced Krahn people, mostly women, children and the elderly. It was shelled by government forces with Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG) and other heavy weapons. The troops completely surrounded the building, shot, and bayoneted hundreds of people who survived the initial blasting.
C. Old Public Works Ministry Building: This building is located on Lynch Street near the Barclay Training Center (BTC) military barracks and a few yards away from Camp Johnson Road. It was also occupied by displaced Krahn people. Chucky Taylor and his troops raided the building after dislodging few of Johnson's "dissidents" from BTC. The building was repeatedly attacked with heavy machine guns and RPG, devastating the entire structure and killing all its occupants.

D. Matadi Housing Estate: This area, a low cost government housing community, is predominantly inhabited by the Krahns. Shortly after the Camp Johnson Road incident, a battalion of government troops went into the facility to conduct a house-to- house search for Krahns and arms. Krahn men were taken away and women were manhandled and raped. Properties were looted everywhere. Those who were abducted were never seen again. It was later reported that they were killed behind the Executive Mansion at night.

Witch Hunting:
Though Charles Taylor had said the "surgical operation" on Camp Johnson Road was not an anti-Krahn and anti-political party nor anti-opposition operation, the truth is the security forces did precisely the opposite. Most Krahn people went into hiding for fear of being killed. Their homes were broken into and properties vandalized. Associates of Johnson and those of key opposition members were summarily arrested and brutally flogged. Offices of the Unity party were ransacked.

Despite government denial, eleven Krahn army officers, including Thomas Doeway and Omezee Saydee, were taken from the post- stockade at night and executed two days after the main incident on Camp Johnson, according to well-placed sources.

The press was restricted from publishing certain pictures which depicted the true story of the massacre. As a warning to outspoken journalists and newspapers, the managing editor of the Heritage newspaper was arrested and taken to the Executive Mansion and later to the National Security Agency. Reliable sources indicate, the editor was temporarily released after he was "requested" to write a statement while being detained. Three days later, however, President Taylor announced the Heritage editor, a relative of one of the accused coup plotters, would be arrested for treason.

This is the state of affairs in Liberia, a nation in search for its moral conscience.


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