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Liberia's new leader says everyone is hurt
( 2003-10-16 11:40) (Agencies)

Liberia's newly inaugurated interim leader challenged the wisdom of a war-crimes court for the virtually limitless atrocities of his country's conflicts, saying Wednesday it would do nothing to heal the wounds.

Gyude Bryant spoke to reporters on his first full day in office, after swearing-in Tuesday to a two-year term following the Aug. 11 routing of warlord-president Charles Taylor.

Rights groups have urged prosecution for the unchecked abuses in 14 years of power struggles between Taylor and his rivals ! from massacres of hundreds of civilians at a time, to organized torture, to gang-rape of even the oldest and the youngest women and girls.

"All of us are hurt," said Bryant, sitting before a Liberian flag in the executive mansion that Taylor vacated just two months earlier. "I find it difficult to reconcile reconciliation and retribution."

"If you kill my mother, and I kill you back, that would not resurrect my mother ... but sticking with this government will encourage people to put the past behind them," he said.

A U.N.-backed war crimes court already is at work in neighboring Sierra Leone. The court has indicted Taylor ! now in exile in Nigeria ! and 12 others it deems primarily responsible for atrocities in a Taylor-backed rebellion in that country.

Bryant takes over as chairman of a power-sharing government meant to restore peace to Liberia after the latest, three-year war, which forced out Taylor.

Bryant, a popular businessman welcomed as a neutral figure, inherits a destroyed and plundered nation. Founded by freed American slaves, and once sub-Saharan Africa's most thriving, Liberia has seen virtually every city and town heavily damaged by war. Estimates of death tolls exceed 200,000.

Bryant reiterated that his priority was getting AK-47s and other weapons out of the hands of undisciplined, uneducated fighters ! many of them children ! on both sides.

"The biggest challenge now is to disarm," he said.

His list of priorities made clear how far ravaged Liberia had to go.

"People must be able to send their kids to school, feed their children, have work and receive pay for their work," he said. "We must be able to make people live within the law."

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