- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Liberian presidential candidate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf views herself as having gained vital political experience by opposing autocratic regimes in her West African state for three decades.

Several times she was jailed for speaking her mind, and at other times she had to flee into exile.

“I feel confident that now the time is ripe for victory in a free and fair democratic election,” she told The Washington Times during a visit to Washington last week.

She views herself as the candidate of unity in a nation torn by ethnic rivalries and social divisions between indigenous Liberians and the descendents of freed American slaves.

Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf is one of 28 candidates for the highest political office, to be decided by voters in Oct. 11 elections.

If she succeeds, she will become the first democratically elected woman leader in modern Africa.

This is Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf’s second try at that honor.

In 1997, she unsuccessfully challenged Charles Taylor in the presidential election. Mr. Taylor left Liberia in 2003, ending years of civil war.

“I did so because he continued to foment unrest in neighboring West African states,” Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf said.

She now supports efforts to end Mr. Taylor’s exile in nearby Nigeria and bring him to trial in Sierra Leone on war crimes charges for his purported role in a decade-long civil war there.

“Charles Taylor, despite his exile in [Nigeria], still has his tentacles in our country,” Mrs. Johnson Sirleaf said.

That position differs sharply from another leading Liberian presidential candidate, Winston Tubman.

In a recent interview, Mr. Tubman took issue with those who want the former Liberian president tried outside his own country.

“If Mr. Taylor committed war crimes, it should be the job of Liberians, not outsiders, to try him,” Mr. Tubman said.

Some fear that Mr. Taylor’s return to Liberia for a trial would be risky because of his continuing contacts there.

The current interim government of Gyude Bryant is said to rely heavily on ex-Taylor aides to administer the country.

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