Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf Returns Home, Meets with Taylor Today

The Perspective

September 24, 2001

Liberian opposition leader, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, returned to Liberia on Friday and is scheduled to meet with the Liberian ruler today. Last year, Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf, along with other opposition politicians were implicated in the war in Lofa and were charged with treason. Denying the charges in an interview with this paper, Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf said: "The accusation by Mr. Taylor of my involvement in the so-called Lofa war is a diabolical lie and Mr. Taylor knows that . The evidence which he has given in this regard is not only disingenuous but laughable because he said my name was found on the body of a killed rebel. This is stupidity of the highest order. I have to conclude that the purpose of the accusation is a desperate attempt by Mr. Taylor to react to the report of his involvement in the Sierra Leone debacle and the fact that I have put out a press release on the 2nd of August calling for him to take action to clear his name and indicting him for his failure to respond to the needs of the Liberian people during the past three years."

About a year after the charges were levied against Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf (along with Alhaji Kromah, Roosevelt Johnson, etc), President Taylor pardoned them on July 26, 2001, in Harper, Maryland County, in commemoration of Liberia's independence celebration.

Few days after President Taylor announced the pardon, this paper contacted Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf to find out if she was prepared to take the risk of returning to Liberia? The Liberian opposition leader's answer was positive:

"My supporters are in Liberia. Every day they stand up for me, they take risk. If I am not willing to take a calculated risk, how can I expect them to continue to support me. Now I will not be foolish to go when Mr. Taylor says if you come here I will lock you up. It will then mean that I want to commit suicide. With respect to the treason charges, the party [Unity Party] went one step further. The party officials in Monrovia said we don't accept the amnesty from the president until the court itself cancels the case. Yesterday, the Solicitor General, Mr. Theophilus Gould, went to the court and presented the document requesting the court that the government is withdrawing its case, and that they have no more case against me. The court canceled the case in keeping with the Unity Party's request."

But shortly after the government dropped the charges against Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf, former rebels of Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia announced that they were going to stage a demonstration upon her return. The ex-combatants' threats were precipitated by statement made by Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf that it would be foolish on Taylor's to arrest her should she return home. But the Taylor government immediately disassociated itself from the statement made by the ex-combatants on BBC and said that she was welcome to return home. She took their word for it and returned to Liberia.

Describing the feeling to be back home, Mrs. Sirleaf said: "I feel terrific, terrific because of the reception of the people, terrific just because it is good to be home after such a long while I have seen members of my family this morning, went up to my ancestral village, I was able to go to my old folks' graves and said a prayer.

"After an announcement of some demonstration by ex-combatants, I did not come because I did not want for my thousands of supporters to confront them. It changed because, I believe the government took a position and tried to lessen the tension by telling them demonstration should not be authorized I think the overwhelming call of the people for me to return was such that no small group could have prevented it."

Asked by BBC over the weekend as to whether she was safe in Liberia or not, Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf replied: "No one is totally safe in Liberia for many reason I feel as safe as anyone else.

"Now that the door is opened, I will be coming back, and I will be staying longer''.

Mrs. Sirleaf did not say as to whether she is eyeing the presidency in 2003 or not. She said her party has launched a membership drive to build an institution: "We have to build an institution, we got to be able to have a party that can function effectively, whether I'm here [or] whether I'm not here."

Click the links before for related articles:
"Taylor Responds to Pressure," Says Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
Taylor is a "pathological Liar", Says Sirleaf
Taylor Should Stop Accusing People Falsely - Says Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
Taylor Accused of Corruption and Failure
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf Challenges GOL And Calls On Opposition To Unite
Trial Verdict Undermines Peace, Stability and Reconciliation, Says Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

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