Saniquellie City: Day 4: Institutional/Thematic Hearings

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Chiefs and Elders of Nimba County

Presentation made by: Henry W.S. Larkor

(First Institution)

The presenter of First Institution of the Thematic and Institutional Hearings was called to the stand and was sworn to tell the truth and nothing but the truth by the TRC Hearings Officer Pastor John Teayah.

Chairman: Good morning and welcome; this is a forum that is intended for us to listen to people who were not directly affected by the civil war but institutions within their localities. Please tell us your name and tell us a little about yourself.

Presenter: My name is Henry W.S. Larkpor

Which groups have you come to represent?

Presenter: I am representing the chiefs and Elders of Nimba County

Please tell us little about yourself.

Presenter: On October 9, 1990, I was elected as Clan Chief of my Clan; in 1992, we were invited to Sanniquellie to welcome some people whom they claimed that they were coming to protect us. When I got in Sanniquellie, I received the guests and they said that they had been sent to protect us and that they were group called Cobra and they have asked not to allow anyone leave from here to Guinea; when I looked outside for water to drink, I saw the same people who said they came to protect us started beating the people that were outside. When I got outside, some of the soldiers called me and asked me for my name and position. I told them my name and position and after that, they said I was lucky else they would have dealt with me.

However, I took the message to the people; when I called a meeting where I could explain the what I heard and saw in Sanniquellie, we saw 37 armed men and some of them introduced themselves as Col. Death, Lt. Blood and several other names and they immediately surrounded the entire community we were having the meeting and as far as around the borders and as such, we were all forced to remain where we were.

In November 1992, 285 soldiers led by one Joseph Montgomery came in our Clan and said that they had come to review our borders and I asked what they mean about review and they said I do not know English, and so, they have come to look after the borders with Guinea and to make sure that nobody leaves from here to Guinea. Afterwards, Montgomery said that he wanted to fire enough in the air so as to let the Guinean soldiers know that they are around the borders and I told no because some of the villages are very closed to the borders and the bullets could arm anyone in that process either in Liberia or in Guinea. When I told him that, he asked me to locate him a forest so that he could hide his arms and ammunitions he had brought with him. I told him that we had no forest in the area and he asked me to patrol with him in the various towns. As we started the patrols, they started looting and beating the people they have come to protect.

When we got in Gbei-Bonla, the Chief there had prepared food because message was been sent to all the chiefs about the presence of the group. When the women brought the food on the table for distribution, one of the soldiers kicked a lady who was part of the distribution to the floor and started raping her right in our presence; I told Montgomery and he said nothing about his man attitudes. I managed and left the group and took the complain to the Edward Merlin and later to the President Taylor and asked if they had sent their men to loot, beat and rape our women? When I met the Taylor, he got vexed and sent for Montgomery. When the message got to Montgomery that the Taylor wanted to see him, he ran to the Ivory Coast. After few months, Montgomery came back and was enlisted into the SSU Unit at the Mansion. When he was enlisted, he sent one General Yancy to come and arrest me. Gen. Yancy came and said that the President wants to see all the Elders and Chiefs in Monrovia foe a ceremony, but I asked him for the letter and he said there was no letter to the effect. But for every step I made, there were three or four soldiers guarding me, but I was finally arrested and when we were about to take-off, my son decided to follow us and he got on the car too for Yekepa. When we got in Yekepa, Gen. Yancy got down and his soldiers started beating me and my son. At the time, I was carrying with me 6 gowns, four thousand JJ, and other personal effects. We were tied and everywhere we got, they will put us down and beat us. It was my first time to eat bulgur wheat and after that, it started running my stomach and when I asked them to allow me eased myself, they refused and I had to toilet on myself. While we were in the car, one of the soldiers said that I put mud on his shoes and he asked to clean it and I had to use my mouth to clean his shoes because I had my hands tied behind me.

When we got to Montgomery, his wife came out and said why I reported her husband and if I had food to feed her if they had killed her husband? They started beating on me and son repeatedly and they pointed guns at our mouths and wanted to kill us. As God would have it, Montgomery wife came and saw what the soldiers were doing to us and she ran to her husband and told him that they are about to kill us and Montgomery came and stop his men. Montgomery himself told me that he was not going to kill me but he was going to treat me and everyday, they used to beat us 50 lashes on our back. Around the area, there was one old man who used to cut sand and they said that the man was making medicines for me and so they beat him to death. Montgomery and his men took 6 mattresses, 2 single-barrel and other personal effects from my house. When we got in Gbarnga, Cllr. Garwolo appealed for me and they released us but it took L$250.00 from Gbarnga to Ganta and I did not have anything to transport us to Ganta and Superintendent transported us back to Ganta. After few months again, they came and raised me on grounds that I was in an animal that broke down a bridge and when we got in Yekepa, people talked for me and I was released this time in Yekepa.

The behavior of these gays used to be very bad; they used to raped women, be it under-aged, baby-mothers or pregnant women; so these were some of the things we faced during the civil crisis in our Clan, Yarwein Menslonor.

Questions form the Commissioners and the Audience:

Commissioner Konneh: Mr. Witness, I called you Mr. Witness because of the nature of your testimony; in our value system those days, the young people used to have respect for the elderly and the Elderly used to have passion for the youths. We at the TRC are charged with the responsibility to document and make recommendations to the Government of Liberia the best way forward to avoid the re-occurrence of the 14 years war. In your own understanding, what do you think the Elders and Chiefs can do to avoid the re-occurrence of the war in Liberia?

Presenter: Thanks very much, my recommendation is that in order to bring peace, the youths should be able to respect the elderly people.

How will you begin the process, where shall you start?

Presenter: I think the Government should start, we born the children but the government is in control of us all; there are certain things the government needs to stop; like for example, the cigarette and the marijuana; if you enter any shop now, the main things you will see is either cigarette or liquor; these things are making more disrespectful.

Anything to stop these children from doing these, it will be consider as violation of their rights; but the basis of every society is the family; I think we should start from the home; if so, what can we do as parents?

Presenter: Before than, we had control over our children when they were born, but now a days, if you asked your child to do a piece of job, he or she will tell you that they are not ready and when you want to talk, people will say that you are violating the rights of the child; now, Liberia is not as developed as the other countries that have these human rights issues.

What is the relationship of your office with the other townships, commissioners, magistrates, Justices of the Peace, etc.?

Presenter: We are all working towards one goal and so, our relationship is quite cordial.

What is the way forward with the creation of the new districts, clans and towns?

Presenter: Since a government is a government of the people and by the people, I think it will be wise for us to pay our taxes to support the government we all own.

Commissioner Stewart: How was the violence in our country affected your functions as chiefs and authority?

Presenter: It actually affected us very badly; we were standing there when they raped this lady that actually reduced our ability and functions.

What was the authority of the NPRAG doing to address these pressing issues, was there no nobody to take your complains to?

Presenter: I think the Leaders of the NPRAG were doing very well, but as I said, when I took Montgomery to Taylor, Taylor got vexed and wanted to punish him but he ran away; but again, when there is war, things are difficult to control.

To what extent your Chieftaincy involved in the reconciliation process in the county?

Presenter: As a chief elected, you will want to see peace in your control area and that what we are doing; we are trying very hard in this regards to bring about peace and reconciliation in Nimba.

What is your relationship with the other tribes in Nimba County?

Presenter: Very cordial.

How many different tribes do you have in your area?

Presenter: We have many tribes, namely: the Lormas, Kpelleh, Mandingos, Gissi, Gola, etc. In fact, there is a group in Yekepa that is been headed by a Lorma man and they very pleased with us.

Do you have any idea any idea as to whether at any point in time that NPFL Generals came here and wanted to launch Guinea?

Presenter: I have no idea.

How was the conflict in Ivory Coast affected your Clan, were people recruited from your clan to fight in Ivory Coast?

Presenter: The war affected us at the time because we used to buy some needed materials from there, but as regards the recruitment, I have no idea if some people were recruited from my clan.

To what extant your clan is benefiting from the County Development Funds?

Presenter: Every Clan is fully benefiting across, in fact, there is an administrative building been constructed in most of our district headquarters.

How the war affected your clan?

Presenter: There were business people in our clan that money that had money but right now, as a result of the war, most these people are now very poor and cannot afford to sustain themselves.

Commissioner Syllah: What were some of the roles the Elders and Chiefs do to avoid the conflict in Liberia especially in Nimba County?

Presenter: The Chiefs and Elders of this county were not in support of what the children against their own people; because of the drugs the children were taking, it was very difficult to control them, but generally, we the elders and chiefs did our best to stop the crisis.

Now that the war is over, what are the Elders and Chiefs doing to foster the peace and reconciliation in Nimba County?

Presenter: When we born the children, we tried training them but as the children get into the society, they get themselves involved in drugs activities that are common around here; so we are recommending to the TRC and the government of Liberia to stop these drugs in Liberia.

We heard that some of the children were given protection to fight in the wars, what can you say about that?

Presenter: It was not anything bad to give the children medicines to protect themselves against bullets; the Zoes are not bad people as other people may see them.

Chairman: When General Yancy came for you at your house?

Presenter: He arrested m e at my house on August 25, 1995 at 12:00 at night.

What is the name of your son that was beaten with you and how old is him now?

Presenter: His name is Saye Larkpor and he is 32 years now.

What happened to you was it common in Nimba at the time?

Presenter: Yes, it happened all over the county.

Most of the soldiers who did these things, were they from Nimba?

Presenter: Yes, some of them came from Nimba.

Who was the head of the Cobra Group?

Presenter: It was Montgomery who introduced himself as the commander of the group.

Were there chiefs who served as perpetrators?

Presenter: That I did not see or heard.

Do you know Paramount Chief Willi Tokpa who was said to be engaged in that?

Presenter: Yes, I know him but I have no idea if he did that.

Did the chiefs helped in the disarmament process?

Presenter: Yes, we used to talk to those boys that had single-barrels to go and disarm and they did.

People say the Grass/Marijuana you are talking is mainly grown here in Nimba County, what can you say about that?

Presenter: Yes, It is true but I am against it to the last degree.

Is there anything else you want to say before you leave?

Presenter: Well, I think I have said all that I wanted to say. Thank you.

Questions from the Participants:

Emmanuel - Citizen of Sanniquellie City: I think I heard the chief talked about Montgomery hiding some guns under grounds, what is the status of the guns he kept under ground up to date?

Presenter: They did not put guns under the ground in my presence but I saw is that when the United Nations came, they took two from under the ground in Ganta, that's what I am referring to.

Institutional/Thematic Hearings Tubmanburg City, Bomi County

Representative for the Religious Institutions

Presentation made by: Mohammed B. Keita (Muslim Rep.) Ebenezer G. Lackor (Christian Rep.)

(Second Institution)

The presenter of First Institution of the Thematic and Institutional Hearings was called to the stand and was sworn to tell the truth and nothing but the truth by the TRC Hearings Officer Pastor John Teayah.

Chairman: welcome, we brought you here and we are happy that you have come to give us the religious back grounds of Nimba County. This shows that we are all tire of a particular thing and we are headed to a new Liberia. And by coming together, we are going to have lasting peace in Liberia. So we want to know the roles the religious leaders play in our country's past conflicts and how best we can recognized and move our country forward. So at this time, you will introduce yourselves to us for the record.

Christian Presenter: Thank you very much, my name is Ebenezer Gbanda, I am the leader of the Liberian Christian Association in Nimba County. Few things I just want to start up with, because I know that the Christians play a lot of role in the society. Because we believe that as Christians and the followers of Christ be of the passionate about. Most of the Christians play a major role in the war, be it a Muslim, a Christian or the religious leaders all play a key role in the crisis one way on the other. We have a lot of people area here who are professing Christianity; we have people in the hierarchy like the late Samuel K. Doe, down to President Taylor, down to Moses Blah and many others. They all profess some kind of religions and it is either he Muslim or the Christian. And I believe that if we had impact the love of Christianity in our children, there would not have been this senseless war. And what I see is that what Jesus Christ said to us, and the followers of Mohammed, and the traditional leaders that love your neighbors as your self is no more, because during this war, many things happened here in Nimba, especially in Ganta City where many properties were destroyed. And when it come to love we have to go beyond just the phrase love your neighbor as your self, and that goes to all of the leaders of the faith, the Pastors, the Imam, and the traditional Leaders.

Muslim Presenter: Thank you for giving us an opportunity to speak here today. First of all, I am going to speak from the Koran, which is the word of God. We are not politicians so we did not come to preach politics. Now, to every body, be it a man or a woman, you should be a Liberian, Guinean or a tribe. A kpelleh, Mandingo for example, if you are a Mandingo man, an you went to Morocco and see a mandingo man there, you will know. And if you go to America and see a gio man there, you will sure be happy to relate to him. Now, the Holy Koran says, the best person that does the will of God Almighty is the person who loves his neighbors. And loving his neighbors is a big thing. Do not feel because you are a Buddhist, religious difference should not interfere with your intimacy. You can not be a Muslim except you love your neighbor as you love your self. And I think this is also in the Bible and I will tell you it is also in the Koran. You must talk the truth.

Questions from the commissioners and Audience:

Chairman: we want to say thank you for coming today, and at this time commissioners will ask you some questions, so please bear with us.

Commissioner Konneh: we want to thank you. And if the two religious groups can begin to rethink, I think this country would not have experience and this world would become a peaceful world. And no matter what you have been through, no matter how long you fight, not everybody can become president. Love is a thing from the heart.

It is the way you talk to your neighbor, the way you treat your neighbor. And the Koran said, for you to be a believer you have to be righteous. How do we make a new place in Liberia?

Christian Presenter: thank you very much for that question, as we can see we as the Christians are taking on the right path here in Nimba County. But where do we start, we are going to start from the youth, because if you notice, most of the youths, if you ask day them, they will be from the Christian denomination, or the Muslims.

Muslim Presenter: I am talking directly to our sisters, they way they are dressing today is not right. That's why I want to agree with the brother here and say all of these things today come from the way these children are brought up in the community despite the religion. Remember the 14 years we fought and there was no winner, so let our sisters in the Liberian society dressed probably. Do not expose your self. If you are a Christian or Muslim, you must dress according to your religion. And now, if you look at some of the problems here, our school in Kahnplay had been taken and we want it back. Our areas, most especially in Ganta had been taken, our properties in Ganta has been taken by others so we want TRC to help us get it back to that, our children will be able to follow our foot-steps.

Chairman: so I want to ask the both of you what is the way forward to lasting peace in Liberia?

Christian presenter: I think the way to lasting peace in Liberia today is the first the reconciliation process, which is a very good exercise. And then, the government of Liberia has to give the role to the religious people in this society because if you look at it we play a lot of role. And when it comes to societal help we have been of help. Look at the Catholic Church for example. Majority of the schools and hospitals were build by religious groups. So we want the government of Liberia to empower the church.

Muslim Presenter: you see, we have Christians, Muslim and the country people who known as the traditional group. There is no need to organize work shop if you are not going to the church, you are not going to the Mosque, so how will you learn, to reconcile. Anytime anything happens, they want to blame the Muslims; we need a work shop for us all, to teach us the oneness and how to hold together.

Commissioner Steward: we want to say thank you for coming to the TRC to give your view and I am happy that the Nimba Muslims and the Nimba Christian are together. What was the role as religion institution?

Muslim Presenter: I will answer this question like this, we do not have any army, we do not have guns, but what we have is the Holy Koran. You know when I came back, my job was to inform those children who were holding guns what to do and what not to do. Because if you cause some one to loss his arm or leg, you will pay back in the hell fire. These are some of the things we are engage in, the Imam I met was a gio man and his name is Siaway. This man was a pastor before he converted to Muslim in Ganta. The Imam in Ganta is a gio man, the Imam in Sanniquellie is a gio man, and I am the second Imam of the Mosques in Ganta.

Christy Togba of Sanniquelle: I want you to clarify if it not necessary for lands to be sold to non citizens, such as the Whites and other nationals?

Christian Presenter: I think when it comes to selling lands and properties, if we open up to giving whites as citizens and giving them the citizenship, I think it is going to help us get out of this lazy attitudes of ours.

Presenter from the Crowd: Historically, when you go back to the time when the backs were taken to America and were maltreated. And so they are afraid that if the whites are afraid that if they are allowed to own properties here in Liberia, the whites will dominate and they will be treated the same way. So for now, let it be as it is.

Emman of Sanniquelle: I want to know if we have 4 groups in Liberia according to law, where is he leaving the other faiths, is he saying we are pagans.

Zarwolo Sanniquelle: what I want to say is that tribalism brought about all of our problems here in Liberia especially in Nimba. And tribalism brings about sectionalism, and then racism comes in. I want to know what are the religious groups in Liberia doing to help this problem.

Chea from the Daily Observer Newspaper: I want you to make it clear as to who took your properties in Ganta and Kahnplay

Muslim Presenter: I want to say that sports was brought in Kahnplay for the purpose of our Muslim school and after the war, the brother of the man who sold the land to us took it by force.

Some one from the crowd: I want to thank the TRC for this very good exercise. I want to ask the man who talk about the dress codes and rape. I want to know how the dress codes of girls can encourage rapes when right from the 70s and 80s up to the 60s there have always been rape cases.

Some one from the crowd: I want to be clear about this religious problem, in this forum I only heard the Imam there talking about the Christians and Muslims are the other religions not part of the religions in Liberia?

Muslim Presenter: I will answer that question like this, we as Muslims once you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you are all Christians. Because I am aware that in Christianity, you have the Catholic, the Baptist and so on but we consider you all to be Christians. And it is the same with us Muslims, the Almadiya Muslims or what, we are all Muslims.

Mohammed Ali from the Audience: I am Mohammed Ali from the youth leader of Nimba County. What have the Muslims and Christians done to revive those that were constantly involve in the violence in Liberia?

Christian Presenter: for us Christians, if we find out that you are in the constant habit of committing crimes in the society, we most often stopped you from been part of the Communion.

Somebody from the crowd: If you were given the opportunity to lead Liberia, what will be your position as regards to those who committed heinous crimes?

Christian Presenter: I want to encourage the TRC to make recommendations to the government of Liberia to help organize a workshop for the religious leaders, because you will hear NGOs saying they can't help support the religious groups, but this is not about religion. Because the church has a role to play in this reconciliation process and it is an important role.

Chairman: so what is your recommendation?

Christian Presenter: I can't state anything now. Will have to get some of my people and get back.

End of the first day of Institutional Hearings Nimba County

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