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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 January 2008, 17:37 GMT
Liberia launches truth hearings
UN troops in Liberia
UN peacekeepers are still needed in a country recovering from war
Public hearings have started at a Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up in Liberia to look into violations in the conflict that ended in 2003.

The commission was established along similar lines to South Africa's post-apartheid body.

Since 2003, Liberia has inched forward, helped by the presence of thousands of peacekeeping troops.

The conflict saw the rise and fall of Charles Taylor, who is now on trial for war crimes in The Hague.

The occasion today elated my spirits because things that happen in this country are usually pushed under the carpet
A man at the TRC hearing

The BBC's West Africa correspondent Will Ross says Liberians are divided on the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

Some feel memories of the war are still too fresh.

Others, including Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, believe the country will never achieve lasting peace if the truth behind the turmoil remains speculation and hearsay.

Gruesome testimonies

Opening proceedings, Mrs Johnson-Sirleaf called on Liberians to be honest and truthful to "help the process of healing".

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf wants to dispel speculation and hearsay

"We call upon all officials of government; all Liberians, the president included, to respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission when called to do so, thereby obviating the need for the TRC to use its subpoena powers," she said.

The seven-member commission does not have the power to try cases but will investigate crimes; and victims, witnesses and alleged perpetrators will tell their version of events at the hearings.

In recent months the commission has taken statements from people around the country - some of them extremely gruesome testimonies of how lives were shattered as men, women and children with guns and crude weapons targeted civilians.

The first of three witnesses that appeared at the opening hearing described how his sister had died in 1995 after being raped by a group of 25 rebel fighters.

A Baptist minister then alleged that rebel forces had destroyed his church when they entered the capital, Monrovia, in 2003, and used other church buildings to store their arms.

The last witness accused rebels in 1990 of killing his father, a Supreme Court judge.

"The occasion today elated my spirits because things that happen in this country are usually pushed under the carpet," one man who attended the opening session told the BBC.

"I think the process the TRC has put into place will help us so we can chart a better course in our future."

But our correspondent says the investigation will not be complete without also researching the appalling levels of corruption in Liberia which fuelled resentment and the war.

Mr Taylor was central to the conflict.

For now, he is unable to take part in the TRC public hearings as his war crimes trial is underway in The Hague, over his alleged role in the related conflict in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

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