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On December 24, 1989, a group of Libyan-trained armed dissidents, which styled itself the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), attacked Liberian territory from neighboring Ivory Coast. The band of outlaws was led by Charles Taylor, an ex-Liberia government official who escaped from prison in the United States while facing extradition to Liberia for allegedly embezzling nearly one million dollars of public funds. After he fled the U.S. Taylor returned to West Africa, from where he connected with Libya. Sustained by Libyan support, Taylor went to Liberia to spearhead his murderous brand of civil war. Liberia's dictatorial leader Samuel Doe responded to the NPFL invasion by deploying troops in the conflict area, whose senior ranks were dominated by the military strongman's own ethnic group. The government forces carried out collective punishment against local villagers, killing, looting, and raping, while singling out people from certain ethnic groups whom they regarded as supporters of the invasion by reason of their ethnic identity. The NPFL also targeted members of Doe's ethnic group and other ethnic groups that were seen to be supportive of the government, as well as its officials and sympathizers. As the war spread from the interior toward the Liberian capital of Monrovia amid widespread death and destruction, the United States responded to the deteriorating situation by dispatching four warships with 2, 300 marines to evacuate Americans and other foreigners who were in the country. The U.S. decided not to intervene to contain the unfolding catastrophe. Officials of the George Bush administration maintained that Liberia, which was then America's closest traditional ally in Africa, was no longer of strategic importance to the U.S. Coincidentally, the Liberian civil war started at the time the Cold War was ending. Located on the West Coast of Africa, Liberia was founded in 1822 by freed black American slaves who were returned to the continent. Their passage was paid by the American Colonization Society, a philanthropic organization, whose members included Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe. The Liberian capital Monrovia is named after Monroe, who was president of the United States at the time Liberia was founded. The country's national flag of red, white and blue stripes with a star, bears close resemblance to the American flag. The systems of government and education, architecture and other aspects of Liberian life reflect American taste. Names of places in the country include Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, Louisiana and Buchanan. More than anywhere in Africa, spoken English in Liberia echoes the rhythms of Black American speech. Liberia served as the regional headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and hosted a Voice of America relay station that beamed American propaganda, as well as other major U.S. security installations during the Cold War. The Americans also operated the Omega Navigation Tower, which was intended to track the movement of ships and planes in the region and beyond. Once one of Africa's most stable and prosperous countries, Liberia was regarded as a haven for international trade and commerce because of the use of the American dollar as a legal tender. Major U.S. investments in the country included the Firestone Rubber Plantation, the world's largest plantation, which produce rubber for Firestone tires, Chase Manhattan Bank, and Citibank. Pan American Airlines (PAN AM) once operated Liberia's Roberts International Airport, where U.S. fighter jets have landing rights. During part of the 1970s, Liberia's per capita income was equivalent to that of Japan. Independent since 1847 as Africa's first republic, Liberia's plunge into anarchy began after a bloody military coup that ended the rule of descendants of the freed slaves, who monopolized political and economic power for over a century. During the 1980 coup, President William Tolbert, who tried to institute some meaningful poPan American Airlines (PAN AM) once operated Liberiaa#39;s Roberts International Airport, where U.S. fighter jets have landing rights. During part of the 1970s, Liberiaa#39;s per capita income was equivalent to that of Japan.

Author:Gabriel I. H. Williams
Publisher:Trafford Publishing - 2002


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