In Memory of the June 13 Massacre in Cestos City

By Wellington Geevon-Smith

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

June 13, 2003

Today marks the 13th anniversary of a day that will not be forgotten by the people of Rivercess County. By dawn on June 13, 1990, fighters of Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) rounded up five prominent citizens of the county and summarily executed them and their bullet-ridden bodies put on display in Cestos City.

The NPFL 'took' over the then newly created county on June 1. Poor Rivercess, a county with no senior high school since Liberia's independence in 1847 and always treated like a 'stepchild' in Liberian politics, was not 'captured'. Forces loyal to the government of Samuel Doe had abandoned the place and the people were vulnerable, waiting and willing to accept and live with any group that comes, which they did upon the arrival of the 'freedom fighters'.

The first move of the NPFL freedom fighters was to declare that nobody owns anything, everything including cattle and food crops were now for 'Ghankay Taylor'. Twelve days later, they were ready to make their presence felt and make known to the people their interpretation of 'freedom'.

On June 13 the NPFL fighters led by rebel commander Moses Gwyan, commonly known as 'General Noriega', picked up the five prominent citizens from their various homes in the night, bundled them up in a vehicle and drove down Cestos City. The following morning, the fighters announced to residents of the city that "five enemies of the revolution were captured last night and executed." No trial, it was just the beginning of the kind of justice the NPFL was bringing.

The victims of this cold-blooded murder were David W. Smith 63, a Baptist Pastor and an engineer with the local branch of the Ministry of Rural Development, Lawrence Nimley 65, of the traffic court, Bruce Nelson 59, a sheriff of the circuit court, John K. Bestman 38, employee in the office of the Superintendent and Joe Tray 31, a sport promoter and clerk of the circuit court.

Their crime! Like thousands of their fellow victims of the NPFL's mayhem, to work for or identify with government was a crime to the group that called itself freedom fighters. Moreover, anybody who looked 'like' a government official, have the same surname with a known personality in government or in possession of any identity of government was not spared.

Cestos City was buried in silence amidst heavy downpour of rain. Traditionally, the Bassa people have a belief that rain signifies tears of the ancestors when such tragedy occurs. The NPFL freedom fighters made sure that nobody was heard crying loud for the fathers, uncles, friends and relatives whose bullet-ridden bodies were scattered in the sand. They later tied rope to their feet and dragged the 'enemies' of the revolution on the beach of the Atlantic Ocean. "They don't deserve this", observed a career schoolteacher who recalled that government employees of the county had not received their salary cheques eight months to the eruption of the war in December 1989.

The irony of the massacre in Rivercess is that the place is a very small community. The people are so closely inter-related that the execution affected every sector of the already impoverished county. "I urinated on myself", narrated an old woman in her early seventies as she explained what she saw when they rushed to see the executed 'enemies' of the revolution. The least she knew was that they were people she had known throughout her life.

By Liberian standard, the execution of five persons is no news in a society that continues to witness horror. Only the friends and relatives of the victims are left alone to nurse their wounds.

The current ongoing peace conference on Liberia adds to the significance of this day. Thirteen years have elapsed and the country is still bleeding.

I urge all stakeholders that it is time to put an end to this 'insanity'. "You cannot solve a problem with the same mindset that created it." Let the victims rest in peace and be assured that history would one-day plea their case.