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FRONTLINE/World Rough Cut

Rough Cut: Liberia: Give Peace a Chance
Background Facts and Related Links
Learn more about Liberia's turbulent modern history and follow links to the forthcoming trial of former Liberian president Charles Taylor.

Liberia's Years of Instability
The 25 years leading up to the current presidency of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf have been marked by violence and volatility in Liberia. First there were the rice riots of 1979, in which more than 40 people were killed during anti-price-hike protests. Then there were the multiple military coups and civil wars. Even today, life in Liberia isn't calm: The U.N. still keeps 15,000 peacekeepers in the country.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

Much of the political unrest in Liberia is rooted in Sergeant Samuel K. Doe's successful coup against President William Tolbert, the preacher-turned politico who represented "Americo-Liberians," descendants of the freed American and Caribbean slaves that founded the country in 1847. Although this group ruled Liberia for more than 100 years, it comprised only 5 percent of the population.

On April 12, 1980, Doe and a unit of indigenous soldiers raided the Presidential mansion and killed Tolbert in his bedroom. Calling themselves the People's Redemption Council, they suspended the constitution and assumed control of the government. Then, 10 days later on a beach in Monrovia, they publicly executed 13 officials from Tolbert's staff.

Doe became the first Liberian head of state who was not a member of the Americo-Liberian elite. Over the next decade, his authoritarian regime banned newspapers, outlawed opposition groups, fought off multiple coup attempts, and rigged the country's 1985 presidential election.

Map Showing Liberia


By 1989, civil war had erupted and Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) militia overran much of the countryside, finally entering the capital in 1990. A splinter group of NPFL led by Prince Johnson captured Doe and reportedly castrated him and cut off his ears before killing him.

The war did not end with Doe's death, however, as new rebel groups emerged and fought with each other, the Liberian army and West African peacekeepers. The next seven years saw more than 150,000 Liberians killed and two-thirds of the population uprooted from their homes. Peacekeepers began a disarmament program in 1996, and in 1997, elections were held. Taylor won in a landslide and his National Patriotic Party won a majority in the National Assembly.

Many Liberians believed a vote for Taylor would end the bloodshed. Yet, for all his rhetoric about bringing justice to the country, Taylor continued Doe's legacy of authoritarian rule. The United States and Britain threatened to suspend aid to Liberia in the following years because of Taylor's support of Revolutionary United Front rebels in Sierra Leone. In 2001, the U.N. Security Council imposed an arms embargo to punish Taylor for trading weapons for diamonds with the rebels.

In 2003, an international tribunal indicted Taylor for 17 counts of war crimes, all linked to his alleged backing of rebels in Sierra Leone. The U.N. then launched a major peacekeeping mission in Liberia, and eventually forced Taylor into exile in Nigeria. He was extradited in 2006, and is set to go on trial in The Hague during June 2007.

SOURCES: The BBC, PBS' Global Connections, The New York Times Book Review, Trial Watch. Harvard Graduate School of Education

FRONTLINE/World: Liberia - No More War
Jessie Deeter's story from 2005 tracks the work of U.N. peacekeepers in Liberia. Deeter accompanies the charismatic Force Commander General Daniel Opande as the peacekeeping mission faces one of its biggest challenges -- to disarm more than 100,000 former fighters and offer them an alternative to war.

FRONTLINE/World: Sierra Leone -- Gunrunners
This story from 2002 investigates the deadly business of international weapons dealers. The team follows a group of U.N. detectives as they track down the source of illegal arms used to massacre civilians in Freetown, Sierra Leone -- weapons that passed through Liberia on their way to Sierra Leone.

Global Connections: Liberia: America's Stepchild
Global Connections is a series of educational films and Web sites created by the WGBH Educational Foundation for PBS. The Liberia site contains an extended history of the country, resources for teachers and students, and information about the film Liberia: America's Stepchild.

Country Profile: Liberia
The BBC profile offers a brief history of Liberia, demographic facts, a timeline, and links to its coverage of Liberia's war and reconciliation efforts.

Trial Watch: Charles Taylor
Trial Watch tracks numerous proceedings in international criminal law, usually concerning genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture. In addition to short descriptions of the facts underlying the processes, the site provides easy access to abstracts of the proceedings and links to important documents related to the case.

United Nations Mission in Liberia
The U.N. chronicles its mission in Liberia since 2003, when the organization established a security-council resolution to support the implementation of the ceasefire agreement, the peace process and other humanitarian activities.

The Perspective Online
An independent online magazine that focuses on Liberian politics, healthcare, education and social reform issues. This site features articles from Liberian journalists, former and current politicians, and Liberians living at home and abroad.

Liberia: Past and Present of Africa's Oldest Republic
A historical Web site that chronicles Liberia, from its founding papers to past conflicts between natives and former slaves from America. This site contains archival images of past and present leaders, as well as geographical maps that chart Liberia's land distribution. The site also documents the attempts of the American Colonization Society to set up colonies in West Africa.

The Liberian Daily Observer
One of Liberia's few daily newspapers, The Daily Observer was founded by Kenneth Best and his wife in the 1980s. Because of intense fighting and censorship in Liberia, Best and his family were forced to flee the country. However, he returned in 2005 to resume publishing operations.

-- Matthew Vree and Josef Sawyer