Liberia: Town Wants Kromah Tried Like His Ex-Generals

Duaman Konteh of Gbesseh Town in Grand Cape Mount County

GBESSEH TOWN, GRAND CAPE MOUNT COUNTY – In 1995 ULIMO-K stormed Gbesseh Town in Grand Cape Mount County and killed at least 25 people, including two relatives of 49-year old Duaman Konteh, who was present at the time of the attack. Konteh’s relatives and other villagers were hacked, and many others shot while they slept in that midnight raid on this fisherman’s town on the shore of the Lake Piso, some 45 miles north of Monrovia.  

Report by Mae Azango, Senior New Narratives Correspondent

Konteh says he and other villagers escaped into the nearby bushes, some standing in a swamp surrounding the town until morning. He says they had to bury the dead in several mass graves because the ULIMO-J rival faction attacked the town again that same day, accusing the residents of supporting ULIMO-K.  

Fourteen years after the Gbesseh Town Massacre, Konteh and other survivors want to see Alhaji G.V. Kromah, who led ULIMO, prosecuted in a war crimes court. Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommended in 2009 that Kromah, and more than 100 members of warring factions face the court. Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf did not follow this recommendation nor has President George Weah supported it.

Three ex-generals of ULIMO have been sentenced and indicted in Europe and America in connection for crimes they allegedly committed during the Liberian Civil War (1989-2003). However, Kromah has yet to be tried. Mohammed Jabbateh, alias “Jungle Jabbah”, who commanded ULIMO in Cape Mount, is serving a 30-year sentence in the United States for lying about his role in the war when he applied for asylum in 1998. Kunti Kamara and Alieu Kosiah have been indicted in France and Switzerland, respectively, over their alleged roles in the war.

Alhaji G.V. Kromah, former leader of ULIMO and ULIMO-K

“Let Kromah face justice for what he did, because there is no concert reason Alhaji  Kromah ordered his soldiers to slaughter our people because we were only [unarmed] civilians…” “If I have the power now, for a war crimes court to come here, I will bring it, because there is no reason why those people would kill our people and be passing around here boasting of doing it.” 

According to the TRC, ULIMO and other warring factions carried out 24 massacres (including this one) in Grand Cape Mount County, the third most it recorded. Only Lofa, with 32 massacres and River Cess, with 30, recorded more according to the TRC. ULIMO also ravaged towns and villages Bomi, Gbarpolu and Bong, where it operated during the war, the report said. 

Kromah and the late Raleigh Seekie, a former Deputy Minister in the Samuel K. Doe regime, founded United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy, in May 1991. Predominantly made of members of the Krahn and Mandingo ethnic groups, the rebel group entered Liberia in September that same year and fought the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), led by Charles Taylor. In 1994, internal division split the group into ULIMO-K, led by Kromah and ULIMO-J, led by the late Roosevelt Johnson. 

According to the TRC, ULIMO committed 11,564 crimes during the war, the fifth most atrocities committed by any warring faction according to the TRC. Among ULIMO’s crimes were massacres, rapes, murder, torture, recruitment of child soldiers and slave labor. The TRC also reported that ULIMO-K committed 6,049 crimes, while its ULIMO-J rival committed 2,646 of the crimes.   

Kromah denies that his forces ever committed atrocities during the war.  

“Let me tell you about my soldiers, whenever they were smoking and saw me coming, they used to put the cigarettes into their pockets, so I could not see it,” he tells FrontPage Africa in a weak, low voice in the livingroom of his Congo Town residence. 

Kromah’s yard, which was once packed with people, when it hosted Kromah’s party headquarters during his 2005 presidential campaign, is now deserted. A concrete pavement runs from the black gate that enters the yard that leads to the stairway of his run-down house.  A palaver hut to the right side of the yard is surrounded by overgrown grass. 

“That is how disciplined they were. Let me tell you something, there were a lot of stories during the war, but most of my people were Muslim and if it was difficult for them to kill chicken then how much about killing a human being?” says Kromah, who appears frail and hands seem curved in, as two men had helped him walk and to sit for the interview. 

Kromah says he remembers one of his rebels only known as Senegalese, who Konteh and other villagers say led the Gbesseh Town Massacre and ate the heart of his victims, with a preference for the hearts of those who were light skinned. Witnesses in the trial of Mohammed Jabbateh also told a Philadelphia court that ULIMO rebels had eaten the hearts of their relatives. Senegalese is one of the war’s “most notorious perpetrators” whom the TRC recommended to be tried for war crimes. 

An unmarked mass grave in Gbesseh Town, Grand Cape Mount County/Mae Azango

Asking about allegations leveled against Senegalese by the Gbesseh Town people, Kromah said his soldiers never ate human hearts.

“This eating heart business is a fake story,” claims Kromah. “I am a Muslim, and we usually say prayers before slaughtering chicken or any animal, because we feel sorry for the animal, so just imagine if we do that to chicken, how much more to kill a human? I am not saying my soldiers were 100 percent perfect, but the statement they are making is far from the doing of my soldiers.”

Unless he travels outside of Liberia, Kromah can only be tried for war crimes by a war crimes court for Liberia, says Hasssan Bility of Global Justice and Research Project (GJRP). Jabbateh was tried by a U.S. federal court for immigration offenses, and Kosiah and Karmara indicted for war crimes under the legal doctrine of Universal Jurisdiction in Europe, he adds. 

Bility and other local, and international advocates are calling on the Liberian government to set up the court to try Kromah and others listed in the TRC report a decade ago. 

That advocacy is gaining momentum at the Legislature as just over a week ago, Representative Rustorlyn Suacoco Dennis, Chairman of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Claims and Petitions, disclosed that nine of 73 representatives have signed a resolution for the establishment of the court. 

Bility urges survivors of the Gbesseh Town Massacre to rally their lawmakers for the court. “Those who are calling for the court should bring pressure to bear on their lawmaker, and the time is now. Tomorrow will be late”. 

Back in Gbesseh Town, other villagers, like Konteh, remember the massacre and demand justice.  

“When the bullet hit my eight-year-old son, his intestine came outside and he died later because there was no hospital,” recalls Koikor Fahnbulleh, 67. “If he was living, he would have been 32 years old. So if they bring the war crime court to Liberia, I will be satisfied, because the killers will face justice,” he says.  

Old lady Majama, who sat in front of her fire hearth, trapping her chin in one hand that rests on her knee says, speaking about the massacre saddens her heart.  

“My father, my son and my daughter, I lost all of them. My father’s heart was taken out of him, as for my daughter, they shot her and my son, so my heart is still hurting up to now,” she says.  “If everybody supports war crimes, I will also support it,” she says of the war crimes court. 

Mustapha Rogers, a youth leader, who was a boy at the time when the massacre happened, says the town will never forget. 

“Even when you go behind the school building in the savanna, you will still find bones of dead people who were killed that day and were not buried,” Rogers says. 

“Therefore we the youth are saying we want war crimes court to come to Liberia,” he says. “ULIMO-K did all that killing, they were wicked. Therefore, let the people bring the war crime court, so those people who did all the killing would face justice.” 

 This story was collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.