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Liberia holds formal burial for civil war victims

The remains of hundreds who died in the Kpolokpai massacre in 1994 are buried in a mass grave.

September 07, 2009|Associated Press

KPOLOKPAI, LIBERIA — The skeletal remains of hundreds of people killed 15 years ago near the small Liberian village of Kpolokpai were transported in wheelbarrows to a marked mass grave Sunday where they were buried in a formal ceremony.

The church service honoring the dead is intended to try to put to rest this particular chapter in Liberia's 14-year civil war, which left an estimated 250,000 people dead. Mourners, including church leaders and farmers, stood with their hands folded as the remains were lowered into a 10-foot-wide pit.

Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission determined that the Kpolokpai massacre in 1994 was led by fighters of the Liberia Peace Council, a rebel group fighting Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia. The cocoa-growing village of Kpolokpai is located about 25 miles north of Gbarnga, the town that served as the headquarters of Taylor's fighters.

The massacre in September 1994 began when Liberia Peace Council fighters rounded up the residents of Kpolokpai. Thirty alleged Taylor fighters were hacked to death with machetes, and then the rebels opened fire on the crowd, killing the rest.

Grace Yeaney, a member of a group of women that initiated Sunday's ceremony, said the people of Kpolokpai grew tired of government promises of a proper burial.

"Lots of people have been coming and seeing the bones and promising that they would carry out a ceremony like this, but that was not happening," she said. "So we have come to give a befitting burial to these people who are Liberians and our own people."

Some mourners, such as Michael Biddle, who came from Gbarnga to attend the ceremony, said they felt justice still needed to be served.

"To see skulls upon skulls, bones upon bones just exposed in this manner after 15 years," he said. "The culture of impunity should stop. People should be made to pay the price for these kinds of things."

The Liberian civil war began in 1989 when the National Patriotic Front of Liberia launched its first offensive and ended in 2003 when Taylor, who had been elected president, was forced into exile. He is now on trial at The Hague on multiple charges of crimes against humanity.

The country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued its final report this summer, recommending prosecution for former heads of warring factions.

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