Doe ‘lured to death by close colleagues’


The US has denied taking part in a plot which led to the murder of the Liberian president. Mark Huband reports from Freetown

The Guardian, 21 November 1990

SAMUEL Doe, the late Liberian president who was tortured and killed by rebel forces on September 9, was lured to his death by close colleagues, one of whom admitted his involvement to Doe supporters and claimed that American embassy officials in Monrovia were involved.

The American embassy in Freetown has issued a brief statement that the US had no role in the events which led to Doe’s capture and death.

Members of the Doe regime who fled Monrovia or were evacuated after the killing of the president claim that Doe’s last close adviser, Sellie Thompson, admitted to them that the president’s visit to the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) peacekeeping force was a “set-up” intended to lure him into Monrovia’s rebel-held port, where the Ecowas force had its headquarters.

In an interview with the Guardian, Mr Thompson said that he would be risking his life if he disclosed what had actually happened, but he hinted at the involvement of both Ecowas and the US.

Sixty-eight members of Doe’s entourage were massacred by the forces of the rebel leader, Prince Johnson, at the port on September 9. Doe was captured, and died after 12 hours of torture at Mr Johnson’s hands.

When the presidential convoy arrived at the port at 2pm, Ecowas troops demanded that they be disarmed. A few minutes later Prince Johnson’s forces arrived. They were allowed to carry their weapons into the port.

Commanders of the Ecowas force have claimed that Doe’s visit to the port was unscheduled and they could not therefore assure maximum security. This amounts to a denial that the incident was set up.

But colleagues of Doe now in Freetown reject this version, as Mr Thompson is known to have visited the port twice during the morning of Doe’s visit to plan the trip. Mr Thompson is also known to have spoken to General C. C. Iwezi, the Ecowas chief of staff.

Doe’s colleagues, who have hitherto kept silent for fear of retribution and do not want to be identified by name, say that Mr Johnson visited the American embassy in Monrovia three times during the morning of September 9. They believe that Mr Johnson was informed of the president’s departure for the port by the embassy, the only place in Liberia able to contact rebel groups’ and government troops.

Mr Johnson’s troops told civilians near the port: “Something is going to happen at around 2pm” – the time that Doe arrived. An American embassy car was seen leaving the port just before Doe arrived, his colleagues say.

A film made by Mr Johnson of the torture and killing of Doe shows Mr Johnson attempting to make radio contact with the American embassy. He is heard saying: ”We have got Doe.”

Survivors of the massacre were put on board an Ecowas ship in the port and evacuated to Freetown 24 hours later. The US ambassador, Peter de Vos, arrived at the port by helicopter the following morning to assess the number of dead and see whether Mr Thompson was alive, the Doe aides said. Mr Thompson was refused a meeting with Mr De Vos, they said.

A senior adviser to Doe who spoke with Mr Thompson the night he arrived in Freetown said: “Thompson kept saying that the whole thing had been a set-up and that the United States was involved. We believe that he provided the American embassy with the exact time of the visit and that the US then relayed the message to Prince Johnson. Thompson kept saying he was afraid of the Americans, if he implicated them in the whole thing.”

Mr Thompson is now in hiding in Freetown after receiving threats from members of Doe’s Krahn tribe who have fled to the city. He told the Guardian that he was prepared to risk his life by disclosing who was responsible for bringing Doe to his death, if that would help end the civil war. “If George Bush is involved then I will say so.”

He insisted that he had not organised the incidents at the port. “I would not have sacrificed Doe. Not for $5 billion, even if the CIA had convinced me.”

Mr Thompson said he had not sought US protection, though Doe’s colleagues say he told them he could do so if he wanted.

Mr Thompson visited Monrovia two weeks ago, it is believed in a US Marine helicopter which is normally reserved for American personnel and humanitarian aid to the city.

Mr Thompson was one of the few Liberians given a visa for the United States at the embassy in Monrovia. Hundreds of Liberians were refused visas when fighting broke out in teh city during July and August.

As delegation of Liberian government officials, including Mr Thompson, visited Washington in early June in an effort to put Doe’s case. The US insisted that the only way of ending the war was to force Doe out. One delegate, William Glay, returned to Liberia saying the Americans had been very tolerant of the situation, when in fact the message from Washington had been angry. Mr Glay had introduced Mr Thompson to Doe. Doe’s colleagues now believe that Mr Thompson was planted in the presidential mansion by Mr Glay, who had meetings during the US visit with officials from which other delegation members were excluded.

Mr Glay was given a US visa late one Sunday evening in June, when the Monrovia embassy was officially closed, and has since fled to the United States, Does’ colleagues claim.



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