The Prison Of The National Patriotic Front Of Liberia
Compiled and Published By The Heritage Newspaper
For over half a century now, the Jews still remember the Nazi concentration camps. The Vietnam brag about the “dungeon of death used to ensnare their antagonists, the Americans. In normal times Belle Yallah, to Liberians, was an infamous labor camp where hardened criminals and others were kept, and they returned after a period of rehabilitation. But seven years of war has exterminated Belle Yallah and in its stead developed WATANGA, right in Monrovia’s heartland.
From the day Charles Taylor and the NPFL made their triumphant entry into Monrovia on 31 August 1995 and eyed that chunk of landscape called Congo Town, the original inhabitants have never lived in peace again. They were quickly given an ultimatum: ‘either rent your place to the NPFL or be thrown out!” Majority, if not all, preferred the former to avoid the reign of impending terror. From that day, WATANGA was established, and the barbarity of the jungle was transposed right here in Congo Town.
Today, the WATANGA “prison” is a combination of all that existed in NAZI Germany, except that gas chambers are not used to exterminate people and there are no labor camps. Other than that, WATANGA burns. It skins. It lynches. It asphyxiates, and it drowns. Indeed, a human tragedy is unfolding right before our eyes, and yet we bask in false sense of security, still believing that Monrovia is a “safe” haven. When WATANGA strikes, people say its victims are perceived enemies, those that NPFL considers obstacles to its quest for machtpolitik (power politics).
However, this is not always the case. In recent times, innocent people like Charles Davis, a former University of Liberia Libraries employee and two other were whisked off to their deathbeds. And yet, Government and/or ECOMOG have done nothing. Eyewitnesses say they were taken by a group of thugs believed to be NPFLers in the presence of the police and top officials of the Front. Right in Monrovia and before the eyes of the NPFL leadership. The Front’s schemers (or those who are afraid of peace) have reinvented the horrors, chaos and dehumanization of WATANGA, a popular movie believed to be liked by the NPFL fighters during the war, in which tyranny reigns supreme leaving the ordinary people in the state of hopelessness in which they feel that “death is better than to live.”
At Charles Davis’s residence, a crowd of onlookers and mourners could hardly subdue the deceased’s widow, Esther Davis. She fought frantically, dashing and rolling herself on the hard red earth. She slapped her thighs, stretched her arms toward the heavens, and bit her lips as she wailed.
Little Charles and his three-year-ole brother could not help see their mother lament. They cuddled, as they shed innocent tears. “Paa-ooh!…Paa..Oh,” they sobbed, with tears profusely streaming down their cheeks. The crowd of onlookers who tried almost without success to calm and quiet Esther and her children themselves, burst into tears.The day WATANGA struck down Charles, it also carried along in its barbaric waves James Kollie (inadvertently called James Kerkulah) and his fiancée Julia Kuoh, a former student of Zaweata School in Bong Mines. Curious dwellers speak of two headless male bodies, which were later burned. Julia is believed to have been whisked away to an unknown destination.
This latest cold-blooded killing brought to several the abductions and sisappe4rances of scores of Liberians attributed to WATANGA. Through the waves of barbarity attributed to WANTANGA have been mere allegations; the constant abduction of ordinary people in broad daylight and their detention in illegal prison for unsubstantial charges has raised alarm among residents in Monrovia.
“When they first established it,” one resident preferring anonymity explained, “they said it was intended to prosecute NPFL deviants.” Today, another elderly woman simply called Ma Marry said, “nobody including their own fighters, ever return when taken to WATANGS. When we see smoke spiraling high in the sky, the fighters tell us “we are burning our farms.”
In essence, remarked another Congo Town resident, they are actually burning their victims to ashes or transporting them in the white speedboat to high sea, where they are eventually killed and dumped into the sea. How they do it, one resident explains: “We see them carry old tires most of the times. Then after some days, we see thick black smoke, the smoke later changes to reddish-brown, or we just see the boat returning with some of the occupants missing.”
During a press conference recently, the Liberian Human Rights Community reported that investigation conducted over the abduction of Charles Davis and others revealed that the incident took place around the Zone Three Police Station in Congo Town, 10 yards from the home of Councilman Charles Taylor, which is in the vicinity of WATANGA. Driving along the Tubman Boulevard, a Taxi driver said, “WATANGA starts with Charles Taylor’s Executive Ground and extends to the Susan Berry School. The whole area is infested with NPFL fighters.” It is in this vicinity that fighters normally abduct suspected enemies, beat them and finally exterminate them.
When Josephine Cheeks and her friend, resident near WATANGA, were brutally killed with impunity in Congo Town, WTANGA was bringing itself to a notoriety that would give it media coverage and public suspicion. An insider who intimately knows Josephine said she was shot and killed in her own bedroom following a visit by her former ULIMO spouse. “When the ULIMO visitor left Josephine’s house, a gang of WATANGA “blackguards” ran in the room, investigated her on her links with the ULIMO general and shot her at point blank for harboring an enemy.” Adding, “her friend who went to visit her was not allowed to leave. A gunman brought her down as she ran from the site of the incident.
Then came the shooting of Assemblyman Seth Vincent. The assemblyman was allegedly ambushed by “WATANGA Ninjas” for his delay t effect an operation in favor of the Congo Defense Force. His assassins took away his vehicle and escaped to neighboring Guinea via Nimba County immediately after the April 6, 1996 incident, a pale, elderly man in his late 60”s from Gbarma District, lower Lofa, was reportedly arrested and killed when he tried to deliver a letter to Taylor for assistance. The old man, according to an insider, was accused of trying to bewitch Taylor by making him blind. Besides the much-publicized ones, there are other stories of abduction and disappearances people cannot talk about for fear of reprisal.
Does the NPFL leader know that these heinous crimes are taking place right in his backyard and against innocent people? Taylor cannot convincingly exonerate himself from what is happening. “The acts are perpetrated by senior lieutenants of the NPFL, according to a police offer who is assigned to the Sinkor Old Road area. “How can anyone be convinced that Taylor does not approve what is currently happening in the so-called WATANGA?” What is even more surprising is that most of the abductions including the one involving Charles Davis and his colleagues, took place right in the vicinity of the police station in Congo Town, where the Police director, Joe Tate, (a closed relative to Taylor) has unceremoniously moved his headquarters after April 6, 1996 factional fighting in Monrovia. “In spite of the killings right in their noses the police remain silent and complacent, a local clergyman said. “These people did nasty things in the forest; now they have reached our door steps and nothing is being done to stop the growing barbarism.”
In its reports, the Human Rights Community of Liberia acknowledge the “growing acts of abduction and hostage taking in our safe havens,” and called on the Justice Ministry to act “with a sense of urgency and restore the respect for law and order as we continue to live in chains of fear, lawlessness and banditry.” The Human Rights Community also called on EOCMOG to demolish the notorious WATANGA base, which has allegedly become a torture enclave or the place of no return for many.