/ 27 August 2008

US freed Taylor to overthrow Doe, Liberia’s TRC hears

A former Liberian warlord allied to Charles Taylor has told the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that the United States released the strongman from jail in 1985 to engineer the overthrow of president Samuel Doe.

”Taylor did not break jail. Taylor was let out with the purpose of coming to Liberia to help us move a dictatorial regime,” Prince Johnson, now a Liberian senator, told the commission on Tuesday.

Taylor was always believed to have escaped from a US jail before returning to Liberia to overthrow Doe but Johnson, who has already made allegations about Washington’s dubious role in the 1989 to 1997 war, insists he was secretly set free by the authorities.

Taylor and Johnson were allies in the early 1980s, but they later fell out, with Johnson forming a rival organisation to Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL).

Johnson, a former warlord known for his brutality, who videotaped his fighters torturing and killing Doe in 1990, was the first former warlord to testify before the TRC since it started its hearings last year.

His much-anticipated appearance ensured the hall where the TRC sits was packed to capacity with 500 people attending on Tuesday.

After returning to Africa Taylor, who is currently on trial for war crimes before the United Nations-backed Special Court of Sierra Leone in The Hague, went to Burkina Faso to get training for his rebels but was roped in to overthrow then-president Thomas Sankara in 1987, Johnson said.

”When we got there [Burkina Faso] we were told that we were going to be arrested if we did not comply to remove Thomas Sankara from office because he was not in favour of our plan. We were asked to join a special group of Burkinabe soldiers to overthrow Sankara. That was how Thomas Sankara was removed,” Johnson said.

Sankara, who ruled Burkina Faso from 1983 until his assassination during the coup in 1987, was replaced by Burkina Faso’s current President Blaise Compaore, who was reportedly involved in arming Taylor during the 1990s. — AFP