US slams Liberia ex-warlord’s elevation to top defence job

The United States has condemned in a strongly worded statement the nomination of notorious former Liberian warlord Prince Johnson to a top defence post and said it would not have any “relationship” with him in his new job.Prince Johnson wearing a hat and glasses: Former Liberian warlord Prince Johnson is a highly controversial figureFormer Liberian warlord Prince Johnson is a highly controversial figure

Johnson, a brutal figure in Liberia’s first civil war from 1989-1997, was elected head of the Liberian Senate Committee on Defense and Intelligence on Tuesday. A failed presidential candidate and a senator, the 68-year-old sent shockwaves around the world after a video showed him calmly sipping beer while looking on as his men tortured former president Samuel Doe to death in 1990.

Johnson was the head of the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL) during the civil war, which fought both rival warlord Charles Taylor’s forces and those of President Samuel Doe. In addition to Doe, he is accused of killing hundreds of Liberians including popular musicians and members of Doe’s ethnic group.

“Senator Johnson’s gross human rights violations during Liberia’s civil wars are well-documented; his continued efforts to protect himself from accountability, enrich his own coffers and sow division are also well known,” the US embassy in Monrovia said in a statement.a group of people standing in front of a crowd: Prince Johnson (R) with President George Weah whom he supported during a presidential runoffPrince Johnson (R) with President George Weah whom he supported during a presidential runoff

“That the Liberian Senate would see fit to elevate him to a leadership role particularly in the area in which he has done this country the most harm creates doubts as to the seriousness of the Senate as a steward of Liberia’s defense and security.”

Washington, a traditional ally of Liberia, Africa’s oldest republic founded by freed US slaves said its “longstanding partnership with the Ministry of National Defense and Armed Forces of Liberia… will continue but we can have no relationship with Senator Johnson.” Johnson and the Senate have yet to respond.

Liberia’s two civil wars from 1989 to 1997 and from 1999 to 2003 were characterized by a litany of abuses attributed to all sides including massacres of civilians, torture, rape and drafting of child soldiers. Some 250,000 people were killed and the country one of the poorest in the world was brought to its knees before being ravaged by an Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established to help turn the page but their recommendations, including the establishment of a War Crimes Court, have yet to be implemented. The Liberian parliament has received several petitions from local rights groups for the establishment of a War Crime Tribunal to no avail. Two weeks ago, however, an MP referring to the petitions asked his colleagues to debate the idea on the floor sparking a buzz over the idea on social media and angering Johnson.

“Let them bring the war crime court so we all can go and explain. I was defending my people who were being killed by Samuel Doe’s soldiers,” Johnson  angrily said this week. Johnson is on a list of eight warlords that a Truth and Reconciliation commission recommended be judged by a special court in 2009.

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