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An Ex-combatant's Ordeal

 09 June 2004

Joseph waves his gun in the air, "take this thing sister, take it from me! I don't want it anymore." Joe was handing his arm to me, he seemed too eager to be rid of it. He had come to the disarmament pick-up point holding his gun in the left hand and a palm branch in his right. Joseph is 26 years old and has a daughter aged five.

UMCOR Liberia: Can you please tell us what your name is?

Ex-combatant: Sister, my name is Joseph, but everybody calls me 'General Enemy Catcher'.

Why are you called 'Enemy Catcher?'

They call me that name because the first week I joined the liberation movement (National Patriotic Front of Liberia - NPFL) to free the Liberian people from the rebels, I captured two of 'Big men', one Major and one Captain. Since then my commander give me that name.

How long have you been fighting?

I have been fighting to free Liberia since April 1996.

What motivated you to take up arms against your fellow Liberians?

Big Sis, I decided to fight for my people when those rebels started doing some funny things around here. When they started catching certain people, making some parts of the city dangerous at night; that's why I fought to get them out of here so we can all be free. How could we live in a city with those kind of people?

After the rebels were driven out of Liberia, why did you not put down your arm and do something worthwhile with your life?

To tell you the truth, after the Papay (former president Charles Taylor) won the elections in 1997, we were all happy and wanted to put down the guns. But after disarmament in 1998, all the 'big countries' that promised to help us and send us to school did not do anything for us. As for me, I was anxious to go back to school because I am in the 8th grade. I just wanted to finish high school and go to college, but nothing. These rich countries did not help us at all, so I just had to join the ATU (Anti-Terrorist Unit) because I've got to find a way to make a living.

How do you view the present DDRR (Disarmament Demobilisation Reintegration and Reconstruction) process?

For this one, I can feel the zeal. I am sure this time total peace will come. To be frank, we are tired. The last war, 'world war three', was very, very rough. Nobody must lie to you; it was not easy at all. General like me, I give up. My best friend die during 'world war three' and I could not even see his body, his body scattered like when you throw glass down from all the way upstairs. Only one foot of his boots I saw. From that time, I hate war.

The only thing I'm praying for is, to go to school or learn some trade. If the DDRR goes the way it should, then I can even become a carpenter and help to rebuild Liberia. God himself knows, I don't ever want to hold gun again.

After disarmament, Joseph was taken to the VOA demobilisation camp which is managed by UMCOR Liberia. The five-day demobilisation period involves regular counselling, which aims to assist Joseph and thousands of former fighters like him to see that war and weapons are not the answer. UMCOR programs aim to provide ex-combatants, like Joseph, with guidance and counselling to help them to realise that there are many alternative ways of earning a living and creating a successful life for themselves and their families.

Note: As far as possible, the original words and phrases of the interviewee have been kept with minor alterations for reasons of clarity.

By Naomi Crusoe, Communications officer for UMCOR Liberia