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Page last updated at 12:04 GMT, Sunday, 6 September 2009 13:04 UK

Liberia lays war victims to rest

By Jonathan Paye-Layleh
BBC News, Liberia

Bones and skulls of massacre victims in Kolokpai
The killers used guns and machetes, witnesses said

The bones and skulls of hundreds of people killed in one of Liberia's worst war-time massacres have been buried.

Victims were residents of Kolokpai village, in central Liberia, as well as displaced people who had sought refuge there in September 1994.

The killings were blamed on rival rebel groups that overran the nearby main provincial town of Gbarnga.

The burial, in a mass grave, was organised by a women's group following the discovery of the remains.

In 1994, Gbarnga - 40km (25 miles) south of Kolokpai - was headquarters of the NFPL rebel movement of Charles Taylor, who later became president.

Eyewitnesses and survivors blamed the killings on the groups that invaded his headquarters, although there is no official version of events.

The bones and skulls were taken in wheelbarrows from a cocoa farm to be buried in a mass grave.

Village grieves

Grief-stricken people including church leaders and farmers stood with their hands folded as the remains were dropped into the 10ft (3m) pit late on Saturday.

The burial was organised by the group Young Women Organised for Sustainable Development.

Spokesman Grace Yeaney said they decided to bury the bones after doing research in the town and then finding the remains.

"The story we heard was that lots of people have been coming and seeing the bones and promising that they would carry out a ceremony like this, but that was not happening," she said.

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"So we have come to give a befitting burial to these people who are Liberians and our own people."

She called for the prosecution of those responsible for this and for other mass killings during Liberia's 14-year war.

"People believe in Liberia that bygones should be bygones, but let people be punished for these actions," she said.

"I believe that people who did these things should be punished... or else people will do the same in the future."

Michael Biddle, a businessman from Gbarnga, rode into Kolokpai by motorcycle to witness Saturday's ceremony and was touched by what he saw.

"To see skulls upon skulls, bones upon bones just exposed in this manner after 15 years, I try to reflect on other massacres that took place during the war," he said.

"The culture of impunity should stop. People should be made to pay the price for these kinds of things," he added.

Witnesses said the killers had used guns and machetes, beheading people who had been bundled into buildings.

Church services for those killed continued into Sunday morning. Religious leaders prayed for forgiveness and for the peace of the town and its people.

The Liberian war killed more than 250,000 people between 1989-2003, and ended with the stepping down of Charles Taylor as president.

The country's post-conflict truth and reconciliation commission has recommended prosecution for former heads of warring factions.



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