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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 March 2008, 15:51 GMT
Liberian shock at grave looting
By Jonathan Paye-Layleh
BBC News, Monrovia

Monrovia's main cemetery

Liberians visiting graveyards on National Decoration Day have been shocked by the desecration of tombs.

The second Wednesday of March is a national holiday when thousands of people clean and paint the graves of relatives in the war-ravaged country.

But many have found the graves empty as caskets and railings have been looted by robbers for resale.

An inspection at the main cemetery in the capital ahead of the holiday found more than 2,000 graves were empty.

'Unacceptable'

"I thought the end of war in Liberia was meant to end the madness," graveyard visitor Prince Sahn told the BBC, referring to 14-year civil war which ended in 2003.

This wicked act by people who get no hearts to feel for those who have departed the world
Widow Sunday-ma Chea

"But if you see living human beings behaving this way you wonder where are we headed as a nation."

Eddie Yalloh, a maintenance worker at Monrovia's Palm Grove Cemetery, said thieves break into the graveyard at night, open the tombs "and steal just any items they can lay their hands on".

He said he has a team of seven whose job is to prepare new graves, not protect the old ones.

"We are not able to stop criminals from coming here because we are not many and we are not police," he said.

The cemetery was fenced last year to stop it being used as a criminal hide-out, but it has failed to keep the robbers out.

"People under the cover of darkness walk out of here with caskets and other items on their heads," a 38-year old man, who resides near the cemetery, said.

Monrovia City Mayor Ophelia Hoff-Setumah has visited the cemetery telling television reporters the acts were "unacceptable".

"This wicked act by people who get no hearts to feel for those who have departed the world," said Sunday-ma Chea, an elderly woman inspecting the damaged tomb of her dead husband.



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