Liberia pardons coup plotters

By BBC's Jonathan Paye-Layleh in Monrovia
© BBC World Service

Liberian President Charles Taylor
President Taylor: "A proof of a true reconciliation"

Liberia has granted clemency and released from Monrovia Central prison people who attempted to overthrow the government of President Charles Taylor in 1998.

The 21 government officials and military officers, all members of the late President Samuel Doe's ethnic Krahn tribe, were found guilty of treason by a high court which sentenced them to 20 years imprisonment.

They were loyal to former Liberian warlord Roosevelt Johnson who had engaged in a three-day gun battle against Mr Taylor's troops on the streets of Monrovia.

They were arrested after Johnson and some of his supporters fled into the United States embassy in the capital and were later flown out of the country.

Peace ambassadors

In a national wide radio broadcast on Tuesday, Mr Taylor said that the release demonstrated his "commitment to true reconciliation" following the west African nation's devastating civil strife in the 1990s.

"My dear brothers, you are free men. I wish you well, and urge you to go forth and be symbols for our reconciliation programs and ambassadors of peace," Mr Taylor said. One the released men - former Transport Minister Armah Youlou - told the BBC that he would like to rejoin Mr Taylor's government.

"As I told Mr Taylor before we went to jail in 1998, I am prepared to work even if he calls upon me to serve as his messenger or sweeper."

However, Mr Taylor has reinstated into the army the pardoned former senior military officers.

Guarantees Roosevelt Johnson, former warlord

At the news of the men's release, their families began dancing in the streets of the north-western Matadi suburb of Monrovia.

President Taylor has asked the human rights community to guarantee that the men, once set free, would not leave the country or revolt against the government.

It was not immediately clear whether the assurances had been granted.

But a delighted Mr Youlou said that it was not necessary for the human rights groups to offer any guarantee on behalf of the released prisoners.

"I am my own guarantee. Interestingly, the very man in the (presidential) chair is my friend. I see no reason why I should go against him," Mr Youlou said before a group of visiting relatives.
Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 17:50 GMT

© Robert W. Kranz  2002