29 January 2013

Liberia: 'We Want Direct Talks With Golden Veroleum' - Butaw Citizens Tell Civil Society Mediators

In the oil palm industry, there is the international best practice monitor known as the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). One of the cherished precepts of the body is "Free, Prior and Informed Consent" principle, which acknowledges as supreme and indispensable the right and aspiration of indigenous people to, amongst other things, have direct, not indirect, negotiation with the people in the summation of contract over land use and other matters. Amid boiling temperatures raging amongst contending parties, a local society group based in Sinoe was over the weekend able to calm nerves and secure proposal from the aggrieved citizens of Butaw who now are opting for a face-to-face talks with Golden Veroleum as a way forward for the resolution of the matter.

At an emergency Butaw citizens meeting held in Monrovia on Sunday, January 27, 2013 upon the request of the Consortium of Sinoe Civil Society, Human Right & Religious Organizations, the citizens of Butaw among many things demanded a direct negotiation with the GVL management rather than using a second party. The meeting brought together over thirty prominent citizens of Butaw residing in Monrovia including, men, women, youth and the elderly.    According to the consortium of Sinoe organizations, the objective of meeting is to set the stage for Butaw and GVL round table discussion which the consortium said is the best way for a peaceful settlement.

A consortium of civil society organizations based in Sinoe County has been exploring a peaceful settlement of the raging feud between citizens of the Butaw District, Sinoe County, and the oil palm company, Golden Veroleum. The consortium's delegation is current in Monrovia and has held a mass meeting with the citizens of that District based in the nation's capital.

Prior to this meeting, the consortium said it had met with some prominent Butaw citizens in Sinoe County who welcomed the meeting and requested that their citizens in Monrovia be involved in the discussions.

In a release issued following the last Sunday meeting, the consortium of Sinoe-based CBOs said the Monrovia-based citizens were receptive during the meeting but highly vented their rage over the prolonged silence of the consortium and the Sinoe Legislative Caucus over the alleged excesses of the company.

The Butaw citizens also said they had exhausted peaceful every means within their reach to have the Sinoe Legislative Caucus intervene but to no avail until the recent intervention of the consortium.

The citizens lashed at the consortium of Sinoe organizations and questioned their mediation role for their failure to meet the people of Butaw at the onset before taking what they considered a pro-company posture, but however said they wanted to consortium expanded to include other resident Sinoe organizations, including prominent religious leaders in the county.

It can be recalled that the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the international group responsible to regulate the oil palm industry in terms of production and trade in the world, suggested, based on a complaint from the people of Butaw, asked GVL halt operations in Sinoe County.

But following plea of the consortium of Sinoe organizations that the RSPO should relax this decision until a thorough on the spot investigation was conduct, a team from the RSPO, the Forest Trust (TFT) and other relevant organizations came to Liberia and is conducting investigation into GVL operations in Butaw and the Butaw citizens' complaints.

After the Sunday meeting with some key Butaw citizens in Monrovia, our reporter cut up with members of the delegation from the Sinoe consortium organizations and asked how they felt about the meeting and what could be their next approach.

The delegation said it welcomed the citizens request for a direct meeting with the company and would do everything to ensure that all the parties come together to resolve the issue once and for all.

The consortium says it sees the citizens' reception as commendable and an indication that they are indeed willing and prepared to sit at a round table to directly discuss with GVL and reach an amicable resolution.

The Consortium believes the Butaw people have genuine concerns that need urgent attention, disclosing that the consortium's persistent proposal to GVL has negotiation with the people of Butaw.

The consortium says it think GVL should open its arms and all lines of communication for constant discussions, especially with the people of Butaw who are being directly affected by its operations, and said that it will continue to further its goal for a peaceful settlement through direct negotiations.

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