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LIBERIA

Former Liberian warlord ‘Jungle Jabbah’ jailed for 30 years in US

Christophe Simon, AFP | A Liberian rebel (L) loyal to Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) sends a mortar to the area of rival ULIMO faction loyal to Roosevelt Johnson in Monrovia, May 9, 1996.
3 min

A former Liberian warlord known as “Jungle Jabbah” was sentenced to 30 years in prison on Thursday for gaining US asylum by lying about his role in the civil war in his homeland and atrocities he committed, US prosecutors said on Thursday.

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Mohammed Jabbateh, 51, who has lived in Pennsylvania since the late 1990s, was found guilty in October on two counts of fraud in immigration documents and two counts of perjury. He was arrested in March, 2016.

During the height of Liberia’s first civil war from 1992 to 1995, Jabbateh, while serving as commander of a warring group, either personally committed or ordered acts such as rapes, ritual cannibalism, mutilation, murder and the use of child soldiers, according to prosecutors.

While applying for asylum in December 1998, and then for permanent legal residency later on, Jabbateh was not truthful about his membership in the group known as the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO), and later ULIMO-K, rebel groups that battled for control of Liberia, prosecutors said.

“In Dec. 1998, when making application for asylum, and later for permanent legal residency, the defendant was not truthful about his activities during Liberia’s first civil war while he was a member of the ULIMO and later ULIMO-K rebel groups that battled for control of Liberia,” said a statement from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, which investigated the case.

Two dozen witnesses, including 17 Liberian victims, testified in the trial. According to testimony, in one instance Jabbateh ordered that the heart of a captive be cooked and fed to his fighters. In another, fighters under his command murdered a villager, removed his heart and ordered the town chief’s wife to cook it. Jabbateh later had the town chief himself murdered and ordered his widow to cook her husband’s heart.

Liberian ex-warlord sentenced to 30 years in prison

Reconciliation ‘didn’t work’

The fact that Jabateh is being held responsible at all is exceptional, as many people involved in the civil war still hold important positions in Liberia.

The establishment of a court for war criminals involved in the conflict, which left about 250,000 people dead, is an extremely sensitive topic.

Fearing for his safety, BBC Liberia correspondent Jonathan Paye-Layleh recently decided to leave the country after a question about the subject prompted an angry response from Liberian President George Weah.

“There has to be justice [for war crimes] because reconciliation has been tried several times and it didn’t work,” said Hassan Blity, head of the Liberia-based Global Justice and Research Project, in an interview with FRANCE 24.

“Liberians have asked their leader several times over the past 12 years to make sure this is done – but the politicians are not invested in it,” he added. “Now, we believe that, because Liberia has a president who is totally unconnected to the war, this is the time to assure him of support from the international community so that he feels secure [enough] to have this happen.”

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)

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