Liberian women protest for dead husbands' benefits

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MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — Dozens of women, who claim their husbands were killed in Liberia's 14 years of conflict, staged a protest Thursday to the legislature demanding the payment of their late husbands' benefits.

The women, who sat at the building that houses members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, represented between 4,000 to 5,000 others calling for government attention.

Tewah Kesselly, a 41-year-old mother of eight children, pointed to a nearby mansion where she said her husband served.

"He took oath to die for this nation, and he died. I need his benefits to send his children to school," she told The Associated Press as she cried. "We are just suffering under the rain, and under the sun."

Esther Gonpue, 52, said her husband, a military policeman, was killed in the early 2003's. She said she had hoped the ascendancy of a female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, would help their cause, but she was disappointed it had not yet happened.

The women have been pressing Liberia's government since 2004, just one year after the civil war ended.

"When we get our benefits we will not come on the streets," said Josephine Broh who was pressing for her late father's benefits, because her mother was also deceased. "My pa joined the army in 1962, the year in which I was born, and he died in 1990."

The protest had garnered much attention before Thursday, because the women had vowed to protest naked. They decided against doing so after an outpouring of public appeal not to.

A court in Monrovia had thrown out the widows' cases because they did not have death certificates to verify their claims.

The women argue that obtaining death certificates for soldiers killed in combats is almost impossible in developing countries like Liberia.

"We did not see his body or bones; we don't know his grave to date," said Kesselly.

Defense Minister Brownie Samukai in a radio interview Tuesday said he doubted that all of the women had lost their husbands in the war.

House Speaker Alex Tyler told AP that a delegation representing the widows met with lawmakers Thursday, and another meeting is scheduled for next Friday.

Many of the soldiers killed in the Liberian war were hastily recruited by the late President Samuel Doe to beef up his army strength against rapidly advancing National Patriotic Front rebel of Charles Taylor, who went on to become president in 1997.

Taylor stepped down in 2003 and was arrested by the Special Court for Sierra Leone and transferred to The Hague in 2006. He is now serving a 50-year jail sentence in the United Kingdom for sponsoring atrocities committed by RUF rebels in Sierra Leone in exchange for "blood diamonds."

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