20 June 2012

Liberia: Witch-Hunt, Paranoia, or Justice -GOL Snarls at Critics

Photo: Liberia Government
Ivorian President Alhassan Ouattara arrives for a meeting of Mano River Union leaders.

Predicated upon Human Rights Watch allegations that Liberia has once again become the springboard for armed attacks against its neighbors, the Sirleaf Administration decided to take actions, however grudgingly. In the weeks that followed, the administration signed a 4-party border security pact with neighboring Cote d'Ivoire. Then, apparently following old trails, the government identified ten former rebel commanders – some of whom various accounts had blamed for past and recent mercenary activities along the Liberian-Ivorian border – for arrest and prosecution. In both Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire and within the international community, observers had hailed the move as swift, and they are betting the security of the border on its success. However, not all Liberians share the glee – the kin of those identified for arrest and prosecution are crying 'wolf!' They think it is all not about justice and security after bloody armed attacks and deaths. It is about witch-hunting, they believe. But, is it, or it is paranoia at work? The government thinks it is. The Analyst, reports.

The government of Liberia has frowned upon the trivialization and 'ethnicization' of the order it issued recently for the arrest and prosecution of ten Liberians and Ivorians.

The ten, who are mainly ex-fighters of the defunct rebel LURD and MODEL from the Krahn ethnic group and former Ivorian pro-Gbagbo militia leaders, are wanted on suspicion of masterminding recent armed attacks along the Liberian-Ivorian border.

The government therefore warning those commenting on the issue not from facts, but from the mere perspective of ethnic and political relations, to desist immediately as such "actions have the propensity to ignite unnecessary ethic sentiments in the body politic".

A government warning issued yesterday did not say who said it was engaged in witch-hunting; neither did it say what exactly the critics have been saying. It however emphasized that the alert order to arrest the 10 commanders and generals of the defunct rebel MODEL and LURD and Ivorian militia leaders was "well intentioned".

The government of Liberia said while it supported the rights of any of its citizens to subscribe to views and exercise free speech, it would not condone the abuse of such free speech through the "ethnicization of a serious national security matter as the case suggests".

Given that the majority of those identified as perpetrators of the cross-border armed attacks into Cote d'Ivoire are mainly ethnic Krahns, critics had accused the government of using the Krahns as scapegoats for its border security problems.

Some critics traced the administration's arrest order to President Sirleaf "hatred for the Krahn tribe" beginning with her "hatred" for slain president Samuel Doe and to the "low support she received in Grand Gedeh County during the 2011 presidential election that nearly cost her the presidency".

They then concluded that by the arrest order of the mainly Krahn elements, the government was seeking revenge, not border security or justice for those, including UN peacekeepers, who are being murdered in border raids that recent reports say are becoming frequenter and deadlier by the week.

But as if to say, "It is not our fault that elements of the same or related ethnic groups or former affiliations decided to launch armed aggression against a foreign country from within Liberia's border and so that cannot count as targeting a particular tribe or witch-hunting," the government said its chief concern was to consolidate peace in the ECOWAS subregion.

"The alert as issued is rather about consolidating peace in the sub-region and securing Liberia's border, since the government gets no incentive by going after its citizens without any security intelligence," the government warning noted.

Meanwhile, the government is encouraging all to abide by the current security measures and calls on those named in the alert to willingly turn themselves in to the police, as did two of the accused, Abednego Zleh and Ofori Diah.


On June 14, 2012, the government issued an order for the arrest and prosecution of ten persons it identified as "persons of interest" and "key non-state actors" in connection with ongoing security investigations.

Those named in the "wanted alert" were ex-MODEL general Isaac Sayou Chegbo (alias Bob Marley); former MODEL chief of staff Amos Cheyee; former MODEL frontline commander Bobby Sharpee (alias Julu); and Gen. Congbe Norman (alias Col. One Way).

Others ordered arrested were former MODEL general Nehzee Barway; former LURD frontline commander Ofore Diah; former MODEL general Tailey Gladier (alias Igwe); and former MODEL general Abednego Zleh.

The rest are two Ivorians – former Youth Minister and leader of the pro-Gbagbo group, Charles Ble Goude; and former pro-Gbagbo militia leader, Didier Gbagbo.

Witch-hunt, paranoia, or justice

The ease with which the government identified and issued arrest orders upon the ten, barely a week after it contended that it was near impossible to establish the identity of the boarder raiders, beat the imagination of many observers.

The mystery associated with the ease may have prompted some happy-go-lucky observers to be sympathetic of the fears of conspiracy theorists and ethnic advocates.

However, cautious observers believe that the government's contention that it stood to obtain no incentives for implicating on its own citizens, plus the verity and seriousness of the border security issue, made the government's justice pursuit more believable.

"The insecurity problem at the Liberian-Ivorian border and the blotch it is likely to have on Liberia's international image, indicates that the government is not witch-hunting any tribe. Had this been the case, the government would have done so long ago when Human Rights Watch wanted those the government arrested earlier for alleged illegal entry to be prosecuted for cross-border raids," said one observer.

For him, a view supported by many observers, what was happening amongst the so-called ethnic advocates is the heat of paranoia.

"They are simply paranoid," said another observer, who contended that the government has begun the process of justice for peace and security and that all it took was for so-called skeptics to let the due process of the law take its course.

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