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Liberian Conflict

By the late 1980s Liberia had effectively ceased to exist as a state. For 133 years after independence, the Republic of Liberia was a one-party state ruled by the Americo-Liberian dominated True Whig Party (TWP). The True Whig Party dominated all sectors of Liberia from independence until 1980. In the presidential election of May 1951, women and indigenous property owners voted for the first time, but the few thousand Americo-Liberians living in the coastal region still retained control of the government. The incumbent William V. S. Tubman, candidate of True Whig Party, was reelected without opposition. The government had suppressed the Reformation and United People's parties.

Under President William R. Tolbert's leadership during the 1970s, Liberia loosened its close ties with the United States. In 1974 it accepted economic aid from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and in 1978 it joined with other developing countries in a trade agreement with the European Community. Domestically, emphasis was placed on bringing the isolated interior into national political life and on improving the economic conditions of the indigenous population. In 1979 the country was paralyzed by riots caused by a proposed increase in the price of rice, the staple food. More than 40 people were killed in the violence.

Juju, as sorcery is called in Liberia, has long been an important element of Liberia's political culture. Practices such as ritual human sacrifice and cannibalism are usually associated with people seeking power or to those who fear losing it. Little reliable information is readily available about traditions associated with ritual killings. Ritual killings, in which body parts used in traditional indigenous rituals were removed from the victim, continued to occur. The number of such killings was difficult to ascertain, since police often described deaths as accidents even when body parts were removed. Deaths that appeared to be natural or accidental sometimes were rumored to be the work of ritual killers.

It was believed that practitioners of traditional indigenous religions among the Grebo and Krahn ethnic groups concentrated in the southeastern counties most commonly engaged in ritual killings. The victims were usually members of the religious group performing the ritual. Body parts of a member whom the group believed to be powerful were considered to be the most effective ritually. Body parts most frequently removed include the heart, liver, and genitals.

The rituals involved have been reported in some cases to entail eating body parts, and the underlying religious beliefs may be related to incidents during the civil war in which faction leaders sometimes ate (and in which one faction leader had himself filmed eating) body parts of former leaders of rival factions. Removal of body parts for use in traditional rituals is believed to be the motive for ritual killings, rather than an abuse incidental to killings committed for other motives. Ritual murders for the purpose of obtaining body parts traditionally were committed by religious group members called "heart men"; however, since the civil war, common criminals inured to killing also may sell body parts.

There continued to be reports during 2001 of attacks by fighters based in Liberia on Guinean border towns, which caused numerous deaths. These attacks generally were perpetuated by a combination of government security forces, Revolutionary Front United (RUF) rebels from Sierra Leone, and some Guinean rebels; however, some attacks also were launched by armed Liberian dissidents based in Guinea. In January there was at least one attack reported on a Guinean town close to the Sierra Leonean border.

President Taylor was accused of trading weapons for conflict diamonds from brutal Sierra Leone Rebels, and prolonging the conflict. Taylor was indicted for war crimes at the United Nation's Tribunal in Sierra Leone on June 4, 2003.

In August 2003, a comprehensive peace agreement ended 14 years of civil war and prompted the resignation of former President Charles Taylor, who was exiled to Nigeria. The National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL) - composed of rebel, government, and civil society groups - assumed control in October 2003. Chairman Gyude Bryant, who was given a two-year mandate to oversee efforts to rebuild Liberia, heads the new government. The United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), which maintains a strong presence throughout the country, completed a disarmament program for former combatants in late 2004, but the security situation remained volatile and the process of rebuilding the social and economic structure of this war-torn country remains sluggish.

By early 2005 the situation in Liberia was improving slowly, but the country has suffered from years of instability and conflict. Political and social tensions remain high and could result in renewed but sporadic violence and instability. By most measures, Liberia is one of the poorest countries in the world and the nationwide unemployment rate is very high. Foreigners, including Americans, are high-profile targets for theft and armed robbery.

Notwithstanding UNMIL's deployment of 15,000 peacekeepers and 1,100 police advisors nationwide, the security situation remained unpredictable. Sporadic demonstrations occur frequently and on one occasion developed into rioting, looting, and deaths of Liberians.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:28:35 ZULU