Tom Woewiyu Laid To Rest

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The body of the late Jucontee Thomas Woewiyu, former Defense Minister of Charles Taylor’s rebel National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), former Senator of Grand Bassa County and Pro Tempore of the Liberian Senate, was laid to rest on Saturday, June 13, 2020 in Philadelphia, United States of America. Woewiyu, who died at the old age of 75, is reported to have contracted to coronavirus at his home while while awaiting his sentencing.

     It can be recalled that Thomas Woewiyu was arrested on May 12, 2014 by the Immigration Service when he was entering the United States from Liberia at the Newark Air Port. Tom Woewiyu, who was once Thomas Smith, lived in the US for many years but without an American citizenship. It was his desire to acquire an American passport that got him into trouble.

     Tom Woewiyu, as he was commonly called, was also a former member of the Association for Constitutional Democracy in Liberia (ACDL), one of the founders of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), senior planner of the Liberian civil war and founder and chairman of NPFL-Central Revolutionary Council (NPFL-CRC).

     Woewiyu faced justice in Philadelphia for lying to U.S. immigration authorities about his command within the NPFL. He was charged with 2 counts of fraudulently attempting to obtain citizenship, 4 counts of fraud in immigration documents, 3 counts of false statements in relation to naturalization and 7 counts of perjury.

     After three weeks of trial, a jury found him guilty of 11 out of the 16 counts. Woewiyu’s sentencing, according to Judge Anita B. Brodv of the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, was to have occurred on October 15, 2018, the sane day Operation Octopus was launched. He should have faces a maximum of 110 years in prison and a maximum fine of US$4 million but his sentencing was suspended by Judge Brodv.

“Operation Octopus” was a ferocious attack on Monrovia and its environs was called by its chief planner, Charles Taylor, commander of the ragtag rebel army, the NPFL and Tom Woewiyu was his confidant and defense minister. As rockets rained down from the Russian BM21 multiple rocket launcher, commonly call the “forty barrel” by Liberians, hundreds of residents of the capital were killed.

     Operated by rebel General Martina Johnson, NPFL artillery commander, now in prison in Switzerland for war crimes, the rockets fired by the BM21 target civilians instead of ECOMOG soldiers battling the NPFL.

     During the attack on Monrovia, five American Catholic nuns from the Adorers of the Blood of Christ order based in Ruma, Illinois, who served humanity in Liberia all their lives, were murdered in cold blood at their convent in Gardnesville. 

     Sisters Barbara Ann Muttra, Shirley Kolmer, Kathleen McGuire, Agnes Mueller and M. Joel Kolmer (a cousin to Shirley) lived in a small convent just off the main road that runs through Gardnersville. The convent was located on a shifting frontline between Taylor’s fighters and the West African peacekeepers.

     According to investigations done by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and International War Crimes investigators, former frontline commander of the NPFL, Christopher Vambo, nom de guerre, “Mosquito,” is being held responsible for the murder of the nuns. Vambo has denied the murder and instead, he has imputed the crime to a notorious former fighter of the NPFL nom de guerre, “Devil.” Unfortunately, devil was executed by Charles Taylor before he could give his account of the murder.      

     Those who testified in the Woewiyu’s case included former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs at the time of the war, Herman Cohen, former US Ambassador to Liberia at the inception of the war, James Bishop and former BBC reporter, Elizabeth Blunt.

Amb. Herman Cohen

     The testimonies of Cohen and other former US diplomats gave the jury a course in Liberian history and the civil was as they were completely on unfamiliar territory.

     Herman Cohen was dispatched to Liberia by President George Herbert Walker Bush, who just passed away three days ago on December 1, 2018, the father of former President George W. Bush. He came in 1990 to meet face to face with Charles Taylor. Cohen had come to get assurance from Taylor that American interest in Liberia would be protected from the fighting.

     Cohen, in his testimony on Wednesday, June 13, 2018, told the court that they were greeted by teen agers carrying automatic rifles.

     At the meeting, Woewiyu emerged from that fray. He called Cohen, “the Bush-era State Department official” and introduce himself as Taylor’s chief spokesman and defense minister. He assured the U.S. that its goal was to replace Doe’s regime with a democratically elected government.

     Former US Ambassador told the court on Wecneaday, June 13, 2018, that for a time, the United States sought to play both sides of the conflict – eager to avoid being shut out of the country by whichever faction emerged the victor.

     For her part, former BBC reporter, Elizabeth Blunt, interviewed Woewiyu several times during the war and also described him during her testimony on Thursday, June 14, 2018, as a seemingly respectable figure.

     “He was very articulate – not as flamboyant as Charles Taylor, but in a bit of the same style,” she said. “If you’re trying to put someone forward that gives the impression that yours is a serious political movement, he was a good PR man,” Blunt told the court.

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