14 February 2013

Liberia: Crisis Engulfs Maryland Again - Several Protesters Arrested

The Emergency Response Unit (ERU) of the Liberia National Police has arrested and detained at least four citizens in Maryland county after hundreds of young people in the region Tuesday kicked off a peaceful weeklong against what they termed as inhumane and illegal activities of the Cavalla Rubber Corporation and the Maryland Oil Palm Plantation in Pleebo/Sodoken District.

Pindarus Latoe, Rufus Gbeneyan, Opal Robertson and Jenkins Wufuel are among those arrested yesterday reports, also confirmed by the District's Representative at the National Legislature Bohfal Chambers, said.

Police spokesman Sam Collins confirmed the arrest of those he called "the four ring leaders" and noted that "calm has been returned to Plebo" and that "people are going about their normal businesses."

"They will be investigated within 48 hours, charged and sent to court," Collins told the Informer Wednesday evening, adding that "those who have problem with their managers should use peaceful dialogue to settle their differences."

The Cavalla Rubber Corporation (CRC) and Maryland Oil Palm Plantation (MOPP) are subsidiary companies of SIFCA Group operating the cavalla rubber plantation in Gedetarbo and former decoris oil palm in Gbolobo.

On Tuesday, February 12, over a thousand-five hundred young people took to the streets of Pleebo City with placards and marched fearlessly to the various entrances of the Cavalla Rubber Plantation where they were denied entry by heavily armed members of the Liberia National Police's elite force, ERU.

According to the Pleebo City Youth Chairman Pendarius Latoe, their demonstration is a weeklong protest aimed at expressing their frustration over the issue and demanding immediate adjustments by both the Liberian Government and SIFCA. But the Management of SIFCA is yet to officially respond to the situation up to press time last evening.

Speaking via telephone from Maryland County before his arrest, Latoe alleged that the two companies were constantly firing and subsequently replacing Liberian employees with foreigners, something he noted was negatively affecting the economic and social living standards of citizens.

"The reason behind our protest is that SIFCA is in the constant habit of firing Liberians working at the company and bringing in Ivoirians and Burkinabes to occupy jobs that Liberians are capable of doing", he alleged.

Latoe further said the company was bridging the concession agreement by its failure to pay social development and scholarship funds in the tune of nearly three -hundred thousand United States Dollars to the county over the past two years.

"In the CRC and government concession agreement, the company is supposed to pay US$5 per acre for land lease. Since two years ago, CRC owes Maryland about US$250,000 according to citizens.

CRC also is supposed to pay US$20,000 towards scholarship for students at the William V. S. Tubman University, but has yet to live up to it two years now", he explained.

The Maryland County Youth Association is meanwhile demanding the exit of three of SIFCA's senior officials from the county for their alleged direct involvement in the habitual abuse of employees.

Latoe named the threesome as SIFCA Deputy Managing Director John Yagbawolo Barkemeni, MOPP's Manager, an Ivorian national only identified as Asamoa, and the CRC Plantation Manager also identified as Frederick, a French National.

According to the young people, their demonstration follows series of engagement between them (the youth and the management) which proved fatal.

The Maryland County Youth Association, the group spearheading the protest, has resolved to continue the demonstration until their plights are addressed.

In a related development, authorities of SIFCA is are expected to appear before members of the House of Representatives this Thursday (Feb 15) to answer to similar issues surrounding the illegal dismissal of employees and importing of foreigners.

Rep. Bohfal Chambers criticized the arrest of his citizens in a live radio interview yesterday. He said it was quite wrong for the ERU to citizens who were protesting for their rights.

"It was wrong; there was no warrant of arrest, and what did they do; they demonstrating and advocating for their rights," an officials in his office noted.

Serious controversy been associated with SIFCA from the very time in entered the country, with several demonstrations and arrest made. Violence has often erupted there leading to damage and deaths, with the people often rejecting the company which their lawmaker, Chambers, claims has been imposed on them.

The issue of SIFCA has created a major wedge between President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Chamber, a former ruling party stalwart, and both of them have remained more or less enemies.

If forced Chamber to sever his membership with the UP to join the country's most powerful opposition party Congress for Democratic Change. He was reelected because of his vocal advocacies against SIFCA's alleged imposition on his people by the Sirleaf's government. Writes D Kaihenneh Sengbeh/

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