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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Liberia's Taylor ordered mass execution,panel hears

MONROVIA, Oct 10 (Reuters) - Former Liberian President Charles Taylor ordered the execution of 250 mercenaries who fought in Ivory Coast's civil war, an ex-fighter from Liberia's war testified to a truth panel on Tuesday.

Mohammed Sheriff told Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission how his comrades beat Sierra Leonean warlord Sam "Maskita" Bockarie to death and executed 250 of his fighters.

Taylor, who fled Liberia in 2003, is currently in a cell in the Hague awaiting trial for alleged war crimes committed during Sierra Leone's civil war -- though not directly for any crimes in Liberia or Ivory Coast.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, elected late last year, has ordered the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the hope of laying the ghosts of Liberia's bloody 1989-2003 civil war, although some fear the exercise may open up old wounds.

Sheriff told the commission's first testimony hearing that he fought for Taylor against Guinean soldiers before being sent to Ivory Coast, where civil war broke out in September 2002.

Sheriff, wearing black jeans and a blue T-shirt, told the commission he, Bockarie and other "target commanders" were given $475,000 for the operation in cocoa-growing Ivory Coast.

But later, amid international outcry over the war in Ivory Coast, Bockarie and his fighters were eliminated on Taylor's orders, carried out by soldiers under Taylor confidant Benjamin Yeaten at a place called Tiaplay near Liberia's border with Ivory Coast, Sheriff testified.


"He (Yeaten) asked Sam Bockarie for his pistol-45 because his was not working. Sam knew that Yeaten was just joking and he decided to give his pistol to him. When he got his pistol from him, it was how he gave (the) order that they should knock Sam Bockarie down. He was knocked down. His head was beaten with sticks until he died," he said.

"Taylor passed an order through Yeaten that 'You are wasting time. I want you to destroy all evidence. All those boys that came with Sam Bockarie must be executed.' Those that were in Tiaplay, they were 250 in number, they were tied up and executed," Sheriff said.

Bockarie's wife was also killed, he said.

Bockarie, who had already been indicted before the same Sierra Leone war crimes court which is trying Taylor, had previously been reported to have died in a shootout with Liberian security forces in May 2003.

Taylor started Liberia's civil war in late 1989 when he launched an uprising against President Samuel Doe. He stands accused of backing rebels who fought a decade-long war in neighbouring Sierra Leone in the 1990s in return for diamonds.

Doe was later brutally hacked to death on film by a splinter rebel group. Taylor was elected president in 1997 before another cycle of violence forced him from power in 2003.

U.N. peacekeepers have helped bring peace to Sierra Leone and Liberia, while Ivory Coast has an uneasy ceasefire and is still split into a rebel-held north and government-ruled south.
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