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Minnesota human rights advocate from liberia returns to West Africa
A Minnesota human rights advocate whose life has been threatened by Liberia's president Charles Taylor is returning to West Africa today. Taylor was indicted by the United Nations Wednesday on war crimes charges. Samuel Kofi Woods and his family were granted political asylum in this country and moved to Minnesota after his life was threatened. Woods says he's going back to West Africa to help the people made homeless by Taylor's government.

St. Paul, Minn. — Samuel Kofi Woods is a lawyer who was born and raised in Liberia. In l991 he became Director of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Liberia. Speaking from his family's home in St. Paul, Woods said Taylor named him as an enemy.

"He named me as one of those opposed to his government and who had undermined his government, in fact at some point in time I was declared a CIA agent receiving money from the United States government to undermine my government and so forth," Woods said. "So, as a result of that security forces visited my house several times, in fact in l996, April, I was airlifted by the U.S. Marines from Liberia after my home was physically attacked by armed men."

Woods said he and his family fled to the United States where he won political asylum. Woods said his human rights work led to his confrontation with Taylor.

"I did have encounter with Mr. Taylor directly and his government at different levels either where we had to file legal suit against the government for people who had disappeared or those who had suffered abuse, or those who had been detained illegally under his regime," Woods said.

Liberia is on Africa's west coast between Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast. It's slightly larger than Tennessee in size. Liberia's three million residents live in a country rich with minerals and timber and with good land and climate for farming. However, the country's environment has been degraded by nearly two decades of civil strife.

The United Nations war crimes charges name Charles Taylor as helping organize terror that includes torture, murder, rape and enslavement of children as fighters in his and neighboring countries

Samuel Kofi Woods says under Taylor Liberia has lost its soul.

"People have been psychologically traumitized. There has been a mass exodus of Liberians in different parts of the world seeking refuge. We're talking about close to 700,000 Liberians that have left the country. More than one million people have been displaced within the country. Since l997 when the so-called election brought Mr. Taylor to power there has been no restoration of social services. There's been no institutional revival. What has happened to that country is the institutionalization of violence and the criminalization of the Liberian state," Woods said.

Late today, news accounts reported a coup attempt against Taylor and rebel fighting around the capitol city of Monrovia. Woods says even if Taylor isn't arrested, the United Nations war crimes charges serve a useful purpose.

"And we hope that Taylor's indictment will send will send a clear signal to all of those who are perpetrating violence against our people and abusing them that they can not be, they're be no impunity, there'll be no hiding place as they continue to perpetrate crimes against humanity," Woods said.

Liberian human rights advocate Samuel Kofi Woods and his family have lived in St. Paul for nearly three years. The latest census counted 3100 people of Liberian descent living in Minnesota.

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