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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 April 2007, 18:34 GMT 19:34 UK
Liberia shuts 'hide-out' cemetery
By Jonathan Paye-Layleh
BBC News, Monrovia

A man paints a gravestone at Palm Grove Cemetery
The graveyard proved a good hiding place in the dark
Liberia's largest cemetery has been closed by the president because it is being used as a criminal hide-out.

It has become a favourite haunt for Monrovia's underworld after makeshift structures in the capital's slums were demolished and squatters evicted.

The assistant information minister said the graveyard had been turned into a drug den, which would not be tolerated.

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said the city centre Palm Grove Cemetery had also run out of space.

As part of a clean-up operation, she ordered that the cemetery not only be fenced in, but bodies buried on the pathways be exhumed and interred in proper graves.

Mrs Johnson-Sirleaf came to power last year promising to rebuild the nation after 14 years of civil war.

'Packed'

"It is illegal and improper for human beings to use a cemetery as a place to live," Gabriel Williams, Liberia's assistant information minister warned earlier in the week.

It is only at the cemetery we could freely smoke because there we couldn't be arrested
Joe-joe Kollie

"Some of them are criminals who claim that they do not have anywhere to live; and the reports from the cemeteries are unfavourable.

"Every measure of the law will be brought to bear on them."

One city centre resident put the number of people slipping in under the cover of darkness to sleep at the Palm Grove Cemetery at more than 100.

As police troops began to patrol the cemetery this week, many of its inhabitants fled.

Some graveyard dwellers were caught in an overnight raid on Monday.

"Normally I go to the cemetery in the morning and evening to smoke marijuana to get high," 24-year-old Joe-joe Kollie said from his prison cell.

"I used to smoke during the revolution. It is only at the cemetery we could freely smoke because there we couldn't be arrested," he said.

Former rebel fighter Chris Roberts was also detained.

"That's where I live. The place is packed with people," he said.

"Lots of things are there. As for me, I take in cocaine to get my real feeling. I have been taking cocaine since 1992 and at the cemetery it is sold much cheaper."

Following these revelations, Monrovia's city council says it is concluding plans to fence all cemeteries in the city.




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