MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf celebrated a decade of peace on Sunday by attending a prayer service held at the scene of one of the worst massacres recorded during the country’s 14-year civil war.
The service at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Monrovia marked the 10-year anniversary of a peace accord signed in Accra, Ghana.
Accompanied by high-ranking officials including Vice President Joseph Boakai, Sirleaf listened to a grisly retelling of the July 1990 massacre at the church carried out by fighters supporting then-President Samuel Doe. Because of their ethnicity, displaced Liberians who had gathered at the church were suspected of backing a rebel faction headed by Prince Johnson, and hundreds were killed by Doe’s fighters.
Less than two months later, Johnson would personally oversee Doe’s torture and execution.
“We became worse than wild animals. We became barbaric,” said Bishop Jensen Seyenkulo, who led the service on Sunday that moved some in the church to tears.
“Today, we celebrate and give thanks for what God has brought about_the peace we have,” Seyenkulo said.
Around 250,000 lives were lost during 14 years of on-and-off fighting that devastated the West African nation’s infrastructure and institutions. Sirleaf, who won a share of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 before being elected to a second term, has been praised for consolidating peace, attracting foreign investment and securing debt relief.
But critics accuse her of not going far enough to root out corruption in her administration. And they question how much her government’s development projects have improved the lives of ordinary Liberians, taking particular issue with large-scale agricultural and forestry concessions that have dispossessed some rural poor.
Following Sunday’s service, Sirleaf sent a mass text message urging Liberians to “strengthen our bonds and prosper together,” she wrote. “I thank God for ten years of peace and for your contribution to this great achievement.”