Samuel Doe: Former Dictator of Liberia. Doe came to power in 1980 after leading a military coup staged by members of the Krahn ethnic group, thus becoming the first Liberian Head of State not descended from colonists. Successive coup attempts prompted violent reprisals against the rival Gio and Mano tribes, laying the ground from the Taylor-led rebellion. Doe was captured, tortured and killed by the forces of Prince Johnson in 1990.

Charles Taylor: Leader of the NPFL and former President, currently on trial for war crimes in Sierra Leone. Taylor supported Doe’s 1980 coup and served as a minister in his government until 1983 when he fled to America after being accused of the embezzlement of nearly $1,000,000. After escaping a US prison where he was awaiting extradition to Liberia, he fled to Libya and received the training and support that allowed him to form the NPFL. Taylor was heavily involved in the Sierra Leonean Civil War, and gave overt backing to the RUF. In 2003 he was indicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone for his part in war crimes. He is currently facing trail in the Hague.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf: Current President of Liberia, and first female president of an African country. Initially supportive of Taylor’s coup against Doe, she soon went on to oppose him.

National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL): Rebel group led by Charles Taylor that began the first civil war. Estimated to have been around 25,000 men strong. Accused of widespread human rights abuses, including the use of child soldiers.

National Patriotic Party (NPP): The political party led by Charles Taylor. Despite winning the 1997 by a landslide, the party received just over 4 per cent in 2005, and now has only 4 seats in both the House of Representatives and Senate.

Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL): Splinter group of the NPFL. It was the INPFL which captured, tortured, and killed Doe in 1990.

Prince Yormie Johnson: Leader of the INFPL. Johnson briefly claimed the presidency after Doe's death, but fled to Nigeria when it was clear Taylor had control of most of the country, and played no part in the second civil war. He is now a serving Senator in the Liberian government.

UNMIL: The 15,000 strong United Nations peacekeeping mission in Liberia. Established in 2003 to support the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in Accra. Its mandate currently extends to September 2010.

Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMAG): Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) peacekeeping force, which intervened in the first civil war, in an attempt to stop the warring factions taking the violence in Monrovia. ECOMOG withdrew after the elections of Taylor. A similar force under the name ECOMIL was sent into Monrovia in 2003.

Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD): Emerged in 1999 in the North west of Liberia, with the aim of ousting Taylor from power. Made up of mostly muslim fighters from the Mandingo & Khran groups. By 2003 it had advanced into Monrovia. LURD initially operated from within Guinea and is alleged to have been supported by the governments of Sierra Leone and Guinea.

Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL): A rebel group that emerged in the south of the country towards the end of the second civil war. Believed to have been backed by Ivory Coast.

Revolutionary United Front (RUF): Rebel group in Sierra Leone. Received support from Charles Taylor. RUF was involved in widespread, systematic war crimes, including the use of amputation as a weapon of war against the civilian population, the use of child soldiers, and heavy involvement in the illicit diamond trade.

Special Court for Sierra Leone: Set up in 2002 to try those responsible for war crimes committed during the civil war. Charles Taylor is currently standing trial in the Hauge.