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'I testified in Liberia "war crimes" trial'

Elizabeth Blunt
Elizabeth Blunt said she had dreaded being cross-examined in court

Earlier this week, the former spokesman for ex-Liberian President Charles Taylor's rebel National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) movement was found guilty of immigration fraud in the US for lying about his role in his country's civil war.

Tom Woewiyu’s conviction comes months after the Liberian warlord known as "Jungle Jabbah" was sentenced to 30 years in prison in the US for falsely saying he had never belonged to an armed group.

Around 250,000 people were killed in Liberia's brutal 14-year civil war.

Militiamen of Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) in May 1996
NPFL rebels began their uprising in 1989 with their leader Charles Taylor becoming president in 1997

Elizabeth Blunt, who reported on the civil war from Liberia in 1990, has written a blog about how she testified in Woewiyu’s trial in Philadelphia:

I am not good at throwing things away, and my files, containing all the written reports I did as the BBC's West Africa correspondent, are now a very useful resource for anyone attempting to establish what happened when."

She said that Woewiyu, now 73, had been "a good choice for a PR man, a fancy dresser and a great talker, with just a whiff of the used car salesman”.

The former BBC reporter said most of her evidence was straightforward:

Woewiyu had claimed during the naturalisation process that he had never been a member of any political group and had never advocated the overthrow of any government.

I could testify that he was heard regularly on the BBC speaking on behalf of the NPFL, calling for the then-President of Liberia, Samuel Doe, to get out, and threatening to go all the way to Monrovia and get rid of him, if he didn't go of his own accord.

And also that when the BBC named an interviewee, they were pretty well always who the BBC said they were."

Read Elizabeth Blunt's full blog, which also explains why campaigners have had to find creative ways to go after alleged war criminals.

Woewiyu is due to be sentenced in October.

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BBC Africa

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Chinese hospital withholds Liberian mother's newborns

The reporter who revealed the story of a Liberian mother who was forced to crowdfund in order to get her newborn twins back from a Chinese hospital has been speaking to the BBC's Newsday.

Sui-Lee Wee, a journalist for the New York Times, revealed the case of Juliana Brandy Logbo in a report two days ago.

Ms Logbo, she wrote, was forced to undergo an emergency cesarean section at a hospital in Guangzhou after being rushed in by ambulance on 5 May.

But when she was unable to pay the $630 (£470), they said she was not allowed to see her babies.

“I gave birth to my babies, and I can’t even see my babies," she told Ms Wee. "Which type of country am I in?”

Ms Logbo, whose visa has run out and does not speak Chinese, turned to friends to raise the money. By the time she had the funds, three days later, the bill had jumped to $800 (£600).

It was only after they dropped the bill - on 10 May - that Ms Logbo was finally allowed to hold her babies for the first time.

By the time she left the hospital with the twins - named Grace Annabelle and Gracious Anna - she had paid $3,500 (£2,620).

The hospital, meanwhile, has denied it withheld the children from Ms Logbo, saying it was merely reminding her of the bill.

You can listen to Ms Wee's account of the story in the short clip below:

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Liberian VP publicly apologises to George Weah

Jewell Howard Taylor and George Weah
Getty Images
The former footballer and ex-wife to a warlord made an unlikely alliance

Liberian Vice-President Jewel Howard Taylor has apologised to President George Weah live on morning television for leaving the country "frequently" without informing him, reports the New Dawn newspaper.

The newspaper goes on to say there has been speculation for some time about bad blood between the two "with some pointing to lack of trust over connection with her ex-husband, jailed former President Charles Taylor".

Mr Taylor was convicted in 2012 for terrorism, rape, murder and the use of child soldiers by rebel groups in neighbouring Sierra Leone during the 1991-2002 civil war, in which some 50,000 people died.

The alliance between Mr Weah, the former World Footballer of the Year, and Ms Howard Taylor always seemed somewhat unlikely.

Historically Mr Weah was a staunch critic of Mr Taylor and his National Patriotic Party (NPP), so observers wondered about his motives.

That's especially as Ms Howard Taylor made her allegiance to her ex-husband clear. During campaigning for the election she said that the country needed to get back to the "agenda" outlined by Taylor when he was president.

Amnesty calls for prosecution of Liberia war crimes

A sketch of "Jungle Jabbah", whose conviction has been lauded as a milestone for global justice
A sketch of "Jungle Jabbah", whose conviction has been lauded as a milestone for global justice

Rights group Amnesty International has welcomed the sentencing of the Liberian warlord known as "Jungle Jabbah" to 30 years in prison in the US for lying about his role in his country's civil war.

“While Mohammed Jabateh was not convicted of the crimes he is allegedly responsible for under international law, this is nevertheless the first case to provide some justice for victims of Liberia’s civil war," said Amnesty International’s West Africa Researcher Sabrina Mahtani.

Mohammed Jabbateh was found guilty of immigration fraud for falsely telling US authorities in the 1990s that he had never belonged to an armed group.

Amnesty said that the jailing of the brutal warlord should not distract from the fact that Liberia has not established a criminal court in the country to try those who committed war crimes.

The organisation said that it had written to President George Weah calling on him to help bring justice to victims of the 14-year armed conflict which killed 250,000 people.

Lassa fever outbreak in Liberia

Jonathan Paye-Layleh

BBC Africa, Monrovia

Liberia's Ministry of Health has revealed it is fighting to control an outbreak of Lassa fever which has killed two people since the beginning of March.

A spokesman told the BBC the two confirmed victims were a 57-year old woman and a 44-year-old man.

The two cases happend in the central city of Gbarnga and the capital Monrovia respectively, which are almost 200km (125 miles) apart.

According to the ministry, both had sought treatment at a number of health centres where they were treated for malaria and typhoid.

An official of the ministry, Yatta Wapoe, told the BBC the outbreak seems under control, as all of the 109 suspected cases had tested negative.

They will be officially declared free of the disease by the 25 March.

A picture shows a warning and awareness banner for Lassa fever displayed at the Institute of Lassa Fever Research and Control in Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital in Irrua, Edo State, midwest Nigeria, on March 6, 2018. Nigeria is battling on two fronts against an unprecedented outbreak of Lassa fever, a cousin of Ebola, that has already killed 110 people in 2018.
Nigeria is battling an outbreak of Lassa fever which has killed more than 110 people

Spread mainly by rats, Lassa Fever has been endemic for years in the parts of Liberia close to the border with Guinea;

The disease’s symptoms include hiccup, abdominal pains, bloody stool and the oozing of blood after injections.