21 February 2013

Liberia: Police Denies Flogging Protesters in Maryland

The Liberia National Police (LNP) has described as "false and misleading" news of unilateral arrest of peaceful protestors in Pleebo Sodoken District, Maryland County, as claimed by Maryland County Representative Dr. Bohfal Chambers.

The Police said the statement attributed to Representative Chambers, that his people were being "flogged and illegally arrested by personnel of the Emergency Response Unit of the Liberia National Police" lacks ever iota of truth, and is intended to blackmail the Police and at the same time divert the public's attention from the real issues unfolding in the district.

The police said the involvement of its Emergency Response Unit was predicated upon the violent nature of the demonstration, and is dismayed that Representative Chambers will deliberately accuse the police of wrong doing, when, in fact, personnel of the company and properties were under threat by the people he claimed were peaceful protestors.

The police in a statement said while it will not violate the constitutional rights of people to protest, such protest must be done within the confines of the laws.

The LNP stressed that it is under both moral and legal obligations to restore peace and sanity in the concession area that was under attack by violent protestors.

The LNP maintained that it will not encourage any form of industrial disharmony at any concession site in the country, and is therefore warning those who are in the constant habit of inciting and taking the laws into their own hands to desist and address their grievances to the relevant government Ministries and Agencies.

"The police will not hesitate to drastically deal with anyone or group of individuals who may want to take the laws into their own hands," the statement signed by spokesman Sam Collins warned.

The ERU of the LNP has arrested and detained at least four citizens in Maryland County last week after hundreds of young people in the region Tuesday kicked off a peaceful weeklong protest 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 were among those arrested, which both the Police and Chambers' office confirmed.

Police spokesman 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 last Wednesday, 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 1,500 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, who was later arrested, their demonstration was a weeklong protest aimed at expressing their frustration over the issue and demanding immediate adjustments by both the Liberian Government and SIFCA.

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 breaching 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 futile.

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