Cablegate: Liberia: President Sirleaf Testifies at Trc

DE RUEHMV #0125 0441249
R 131249Z FEB 09



E.0.12958: N/A

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: After postponing several times, President Ellen
Johnson Sirleaf testified behind closed doors to the Truth and
Reconciliation Commission (TRC) on February 12. Her testimony was
subsequently broadcast on local radio stations. Sirleaf admitted
being an early sympathizer of Charles Taylor's National Patriotic
Front of Liberia (NPFL) and of visiting Taylor's rebel headquarters
in Gborplay, Nimba County during the conflict. She acknowledged she
was a founding member of the Association of Constitutional Democracy
in Liberia (ACDL), which raised $10,000 to provide relief for people
in NPFL-held territory, but denied ever being a member of the NPFL
or dressing in fatigues to support Taylor. She hoped her testimony
to the TRC would be a step toward reconciliation in Liberia. Public
reaction was positive, but we have yet to see if Sirleaf's testimony
encourages others to step forward. END SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) During her unannounced but long-awaited testimony before
the TRC on February 12, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf admitted
participating in a student activist movement against President
Tolbert's government in 1969, but said she left Liberia shortly
afterwards to study at Harvard University. She returned in 1971,
was hired at the Ministry of Finance, and became Minister in 1979,
but said she was never a member of Tolbert's True Whig Party.
(Note: She was openly critical of Taylor several times during that
period. End note.) Sirleaf was spared by Doe's supporters in the
April 12, 1980 coup when 13 of her Cabinet colleagues were publicly
executed, and she denied any prior knowledge of the plot.

3. (SBU) The record shows that Sirleaf was even more critical of Doe
than she had been of Tolbert. She delivered a speech in the United
States in 1985 to the Union of Liberians in the Americas (ULAA) in
which she said, "Liberia is governed by Doe and a bunch of idiots."
She was arrested upon her return to Liberia and spent two months in
jail before she was pardoned by Doe. She was arrested again in the
aftermath of the November 12, 1985 coup for being an alleged member
of the rebellion but escaped from prison and fled Liberia for the
United States in 1986. Sirleaf said she met Charles Taylor for the
first time in Paris in 1987, and that she was a founding member of
the Association of Constitutional Democracy in Liberia (ACDL), a
group that believed an armed rebellion against Samuel Doe's
government was necessary. She admitted contributing to ACDL's
$10,000 fundraiser, led by her friend Harry Greaves, (currently
Managing Director of Liberia Petroleum Refining Corporation), and
believed the funds were to provide relief for people in Taylor's
NPFL-held territory. (Comment: Sirleaf testified she was
supporting relief to people in NPFL-held territory; NPFL was, at the
time, buying weapons and we do not know if ACDL's money was diverted
to buy weapons. End comment.)

4. (SBU) Sirleaf said she met Taylor again in early 1990 in Abidjan
and he approved her subsequent visit to his headquarters at Gborplay
to see the progress of the war. Sirleaf testified she was "not
impressed" with what she saw at Gborplay, noting there seemed to be
many Lebanese nationals there. (Comment: Liberians interpret this
to mean Taylor was starting to collude with commercial interests
instead of acting in the national interest. End note.) Sirleaf
said she finally decided to disengage from Taylor completely by July
1990 after he murdered her good friend Moses Duopu, a founding
member of the ACDL and the NPFL.

5. (SBU) President Sirleaf testified that she lived in exile in
Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire from 1992 to 1997 and did not want to be
involved in Liberian politics because of her work with the UN. She
said she was never part of any warring faction and did not
financially support any rebel group after her initial donation to
ACDL, and denied ever wearing a military uniform behind Taylor's
lines, as had been alleged by other TRC witnesses. She said that
she had known nothing about Taylor's imprisonment in the United
States, downplayed any direct relationship with Taylor, and claimed
she always had to work through Taylor's Defense Minister Tom
Woiweyou, the overall mediator between the ACDL and the NPFL.

6. (SBU) Sirleaf concluded her testimony by saying that her actions
against the government of President Samuel Doe were done in
consultation with other opposition political leaders and were not
unilateral. She said she did not realize Taylor's rebellion would
be as bloody as it was, and apologized to the Liberian people for
"being fooled by Taylor." She hoped her testimony to the TRC would
be a step toward reconciliation in Liberia.

7. (SBU) COMMENT: Although postponed many times because of
constitutional concerns about a President testifying while still in
office, Sirleaf's appearance before the TRC was intended to make the
Commission's inquiry more credible and transparent, and to foster
reconciliation. Calls to radio talk shows this morning indicate the
public appreciated her candid testimony and has, on the whole,
accepted her confirmation that although she supported Taylor's war
efforts initially, she backed away as it became apparent he was a
showman and not a true revolutionary. It is not clear if her
testimony will encourage other high profile witnesses who have thus
far avoided the TRC to come forward. END COMMENT.


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