- - Monday, April 16, 2012

MONROVIA, Liberia — As judgment day nears in the trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes in neighboring Sierra Leone, many Liberians are wondering whether he will ever face justice for brutality in his own country.

“There were more atrocities that occurred in Liberia under [his] leadership as compared to that in Sierra Leone,” said Nathan F. Gull, a 33-year-old businessman in Monrovia.

Mr. Taylor, a former rebel leader, is best known internationally for his bands of drugged-up child soldiers who terrorized Liberians throughout the 1990s until 2003.

Fourteen years of civil war killed 250,000 people and left survivors coping with traumatic memories of massacres, rape, torture, forced conscription and cannibalism, according to testimony given to Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, created in 2005 to investigate the conflicts.

Ethnic divisions that helped spark the civil wars remain, and 8,000 U.N. peacekeepers still patrol the West African nation.

In what was known as the First Liberian Civil War, Mr. Taylor led a rebel force that in 1990 overthrew and executed Samuel Doe, who grabbed power in a military coup 10 years earlier. Many observers agree that Mr. Taylor essentially terrorized the population into electing him president in 1997.

He stepped down in 2003 in the face of another armed uprising known as the Second Liberian Civil War, which broke out in 1999.

During his years as president, Mr. Taylor was accused of arming rebels in Sierra Leone in a civil war also known for massive atrocities.

Now facing 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, Mr. Taylor is awaiting an April 26 verdict from a three-judge international tribunal in the Netherlands, where he is in custody. He is expected to appeal a guilty verdict.

High-level suspects

Many Liberians will not be satisfied with a conviction for crimes committed in Sierra Leone. They want Mr. Taylor and other rebel leaders tried in Liberia.

“A lot of people who committed atrocities are still in government,” said Chris Samukar, who lost his brother during the wars.

Among the most controversial leaders is Prince Y. Johnson, the former head of the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia, a warring faction in the 1990s.

The truth commission named Mr. Johnson the worst perpetrator of war crimes, yet he serves in the Senate and chairs the Committee on National Defense, Intelligence, Security and Veteran Affairs.

Aaron Weah, a Liberian civil society activist, said the presence of war crimes suspects like Mr. Johnson in the government underscores the many challenges the nation faces in its pursuit of justice and reconciliation.

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