- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 16, 2011

MONROVIA, Liberia — Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf appeared at her final campaign rally last week with the man named No. 1 on the government’s list of “most notorious perpetrators” of violence during the country’s civil war.

Ex-warlord Prince Johnson and Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf, who a month earlier had won the Nobel Peace Prize, stepped out of the campaign bus together and remained side by side until they waved goodbye to the crowd.

Two days later, Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf won re-election in the presidential runoff. Some are now wondering, at what price?

The 73-year-old Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf helped stabilize Liberia after a vicious civil war but faces questions about whether she will make concessions to the very people who dragged the country into war.


Among them is Mr. Johnson, who gained notoriety for being videotaped as his men tortured Liberia’s deposed ruler Samuel K. Doe in 1990.

The image of Mr. Johnson drinking Budweiser as his men cut off the ex-president’s ears is emblematic of the hell from which Liberia is still attempting to emerge.

Currently a senator, Mr. Johnson was one of Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf’s rivals in the October election and endorsed her before the Nov. 8 runoff between Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf and former U.N. diplomat Winston Tubman.

Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf has pledged to reach out to her opponents, including all 15 opposition parties that ran against her in the first round of the vote last month.

That sounds good over the airwaves, but it could cause Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf to make deals with those directly responsible for the nation’s ills.

Local newspapers reported that in return for his support for Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf in the second-round vote, the ex-warlord asked for 30 percent of the positions in her government, financial packages for his home county and immunity from prosecution for alleged war crimes.

Though she has denied making any concessions to him, Mr. Johnson told reporters last month that he “would not put his support into someone’s hands blindly.”

Political scientist Robert Blair, a researcher at Yale University and the author of several studies on Liberia, noted that Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf often refers to reconciliation.

“That’s a big word in Liberia,” Mr. Blair said. “There’s a risk now that reconciliation will just turn out to mean backroom deals.”

Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf’s spokesman says she has made no deals with Mr. Johnson, who has tried to bury his past as a warlord and draws strong support in his native Nimba County.

“No, she did not make any concessions to Prince Johnson. It was Prince Johnson who declared his support, and she did not seek out his support,” presidential spokesman Cyrus Badio told the Associated Press by telephone last week.

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