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UNDER THE LEADERSHIP of a military government, Liberia m the early 1980s was moving through what was perhaps the most tumultuous period in its history. The coup d'6tat launched by a group of young enlisted men on April 12, 1980, had destroyed the illusion of stability built up by 133 years of statehood under the rule of an elite group composed primarily of descendants of freed slaves from the United States. At the time of the military takeover and the subsequent public executions of officials from the former regime, the countyy was temporarily in chaos. To restore order, Master Sergeant (later General) Samuel Kanyon Doe and his colleagues on the governing People's Redemption Council ruled by decree, imposing a host of stringent security regulations and using the army against the regime's opponents and potential enemies. The effectiveness of the armed forces, however, was in itially limited because discipline had broken down in the upheav als that followed the coup. Indeed, in the first four years of mili tary rule, several other coup attempts were linked to members of the armed forces and even to some in the ruling circle. Over time, the agitation abated, Doe consolidated his political power, and a measure of discipline was restored to the military. In 1984, how ever, Doe's government continued to be particularly sensitive about domestic security as it prepared itself for a constitutional transition to civilian rule.

The Doe regime also perceived threats arising from beyond its borders. Although in the wake of the coup the Liberian gov ernment had appeared to be strengthening its ties with Libya, Doe soon came to view that country with suspicion and accused the Libyans of plotting to overthrow his government. Similarly, the activities of the Soviet Union and its allies were regarded war ily by the Liberian government. At the same time, relations with the United States improved, and American military and economic aid increased significantly. To protect itself against foreign and domestic threats, the government could call upon its military and police forces. These forces in 1984 included the Armed Forces of Liberia of some 6,700 members, the National Police Force of about 2,000, and other smaller protective and intelligence services.

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