16 December 2013

Liberia: Aicha Fights Back - 'Will Never Undermine Liberia's Peace, Take War to Guinea'

Fighting back tears as she explained her frustration and disappointment over what she describes as "fake" information fed to the United Nations Panel of Experts, Aicha Conneh, the former wife of LURD rebel leader Sekou Damate Conneh and a close aide to former Guinean President Lansana Conté, says she would never undermine the peace Liberia now enjoys or do anything sinister to recruit rebels for assault in neighboring Guinea.

Declared Konneh: "When they wanted the rebels to be disarmed in this place --- they should contact General Opande; they should contact Jacques Klein. I worked with those people in this country to disarm all of those children. The children had refused to lay down the arms because they say their chairman had betrayed them."

Klein is a retired United States diplomat, who served as head of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Liberia. General Daniel Opande was a three-star general from Kenya dispatched by the United Nations to disarm fighters from the warring factions in Liberia.

'They Just Lie on My Name'

Said Aicha: "I am the peacemaker in this country; I brought peace in Liberia and I will not spoil this peace. Even if I see somebody who want spoil this peace process I will not hide you. But will not spoil anybody name because I am not here for that. I am busy with my business. Some people are not working so they have to go lie to get money. Aicha Konneh name is a business for some people. They just lie on my name to get money from some other people."

Aicha appeared disturbed by the report when FrontPageAfrica visited her used clothes wholesale store in Waterside Saturday, as she questioned the failure of the UN panel of Experts to put out a report without hearing her side of what they had gathered, from forces she says are determined to ruin her life.

"When I first heard about this report, it made me feel bad and made me to jerk because this report that they gave to the UN is a fake report. Because in the first place when people mention the name Aicha Conneh in this place they see a peacemaker."

According to the UN Panel, Konneh's logging operations in Bloquia and Neezonie, are carried out through A&M Enterprises, which obtained licenses from the Forestry Development Authority, but is not an entity registered in Liberia. "Konneh signs documents on behalf of A&M Enterprises using her alias, AissataConde, which she also uses for her only registered company, Mah Saran Trading, a company registered to sell used clothes in Monrovia, and identity documents submitted for the incorporation of Mah Saran Trading include a passport of the owner, Aissata Conde, which is in fact a passport of Aicha Konneh."

Aicha dismissed suggestions that she is a foreigner and Guinean in particular. "I was born Aicha Keita." Aicha says her father,Sekou Keita was the CID Commander of Margibi County during the Tolbert administration. "When he got retired, President Samuel Kanyon Doe appointed him as the Mandingo Governor of Kakata for the Mandingo people in the Mandingo quarter in Kakata." She inherited the name of her late husband, Mohammed Konneh. "This is how I became AichaKonneh." Aicha says she later married Sekou Damate Conneh.

Aicha recalled that she was in Conakry, Guinea when General Opande summoned her to come and join him in convincing the young rebels to drop their guns and end the civil war. "I took my personal money, gave it to the children, talked to them for them to disarm for peace to come to this country. I will never do things like that and turn around and undermine that same peace process because enjoyment comes in peace. Here's the Dogafleh store they say I am selling Dogafleh. What made me to sell Dogafleh? Because peace is here. I know that there is enjoyment in peace. When you remain united, that's peace. So I am appealing to the UN people, the people that gave them this information. It is all jealousy talk on AichaKonneh. Jealousy talk and they don't want to see someone like me living a better life so this is the talk they want to spread about me. They decide to talk to the UN to put Aicha Conneh in bad book because they hate Aicha Conneh and they do not want to see her prosper."

The UN report alleged that Aicha received two logging concessions -- Community Forest Management Agreements in Bloquia and Neezonie, Gbarzon district, Grand Gedeh County -- following an intervention by the Executive Mansion with the Forestry Development Authority in 2011.

Aicha dismissed insinuations in the report that the Executive Mansion or President Sirleaf was directly involved, stating that it was the community and not the president who gave her logging rights to the areas in Grand Gedeh. Aicha said that the forest does not belong to her, but to the community, and that she is only a conduit between the investors and the community, providing her own money to make the project work and bring development to the area. "The forest is not for me. The forest is for the community people. Old Ma Ellen nah give me forest, this forest that the community people forest and they are the ones working in that forest," said Aicha.

Aicha explained that the community forest is unlike the Private Use Permits which falls under the jurisdiction (the jurisdiction of what?). "The community forest is for the people to help themselves. So the community people that them know who they want give their forest to so that they can get work."

'It is False': Community Debunks Panel

Sampson Zaimie, Chairman of the Bloquiah Community Forest Management Board explained that the panel's report was wrong. "It is false. A&M Enterprises wrote us. We gave the forest to A&M and A&M sent LHC(Liberian Hardwood Corporation) to us as the implementing partner, third party. We accepted them and then we're working with them smoothly. We have all of our documents correct. If anyone tells you that the people came in illegally that means they are doing things just to hurt our feelings and they do not want for development to come into our areas;that's the reason why they are doing so," said Zaimie.

But the UN Panel wrote that Konneh's logging operations in Bloquia and Neezonie are carried out by A&M Enterprises, which obtained licenses from the Forestry Development Authority, but is not an entity registered in Liberia. "Konneh signs documents on behalf of A&M Enterprises using her alias, Aissata Conde, which she also uses for her only registered company, Mah Saran Trading. This company is registered to sell used clothes in Monrovia, and identity documents submitted for the incorporation of Mah Saran Trading include a passport of the owner, Aissata Conde, which is in fact a passport of Aicha Conneh."

Zaimie says the investors are providing roads. "By January,they will be starting the other road from Gbarzon to go to Bo."

Zaimie said he had not met Aicha until last Saturday, December 14, 2013. "I myself went and wrote the people in 2011 telling them that we need development. Anyone that say so, they don't want for development to go there. I am always saying this. You can make a background investigation now, send someone in Bo or Gbarzon, just do it in a tricky manner, you will know whether it is true," said Zaimie.

The UN report, quoting a diplomatic official and a Liberian mercenary source familiar with Konneh's business activities, does not name a specific person in the Executive Mansion who gave the instructions for Conneh to receive the logging contracts, but does claim that an official with the Executive Mansioninformed the Panel on September 30, 2013 that while Conneh maintained personal friendships within the Mansion, the Mansion did not intervene on her behalf with regard to the matter. "Instead, the official informed the Panel, Konneh had obtained the logging concessions directly from the Authority by boasting of her friendship with the President of Liberia.'

The panel notes that the allocations of these community forest management agreements to Konneh's company appear to violate the Community Rights Law. "In particular, the Law requires the formation of community assemblies, the appointment of a community forest board and the development of a community forest action plan, as well as its approval by the relevant interested parties, before such agreements can be signed.

However, while the Forestry Development Authority Board approved the relevant regulations for Bloquia and Neezonie on 26 August 2011, the two agreements were actually signed on 15 August 2011, apparently in violation of the Law.

For Aicha, the end appears to be justifying the means of her accusers and the panel of experts who believed the "fake" lies she says her adversaries fed the panel.

"If somebody takes your name and give it to UN that means that person want to kill you or embarrass you in this life. But everything is in God's hands. The UN people themselves they know God. They should check good and they will know that fake something they told them and that fake information they give them."

UN Panel 'Never Contacted Me'

Taking a deep breadth as she lamented her frustration, Aicha said the panel never contacted her to hear her side and said the only time she heard about the panel was through a third party but she was in mourning for a relative and not available to meet the panel.

"One day somebody called me they say some people from UN want to see me. But really that was the day my uncle died. So I told them I am busy. The next day was Saturday we were at the burial they called me, I said we on the burial and I was crying myself, he said 'oh Aicha sorry'. "From that time nobody contact me again until I went to Togo".

Regarding reports that she has been expelled from Guinea over reports that she tried to plot an overthrow of the government there, Aicha retorted: "That the same lie lie". I left Guinea because my Mother lost her way in Liberia here. So I came to look for my Ma. They say they call the Guinea government. I came here, I recruiting to go attack them. So right away I found out and It was true they finish give the lie-lie there and that made me afraid not to go back there."

Aicha said the Guinea government has already contacted the Liberian and verified that she was not involved in any recruitment exercise. "Ask the Liberia government, they checked and see everything was lie so they give their report to the Guinea government. And that topic they are taking about was 2011 three years ago now."

Regarding the panel report that two of her LURD operative were employed in the executive mansion on the payroll of the presidential guard, Aicha deny the allegations. "They say because you were close to LURD, you influenced the president to employ them. No I don't have anybody from LURD forces in the security in the mansion. It is lie, all that one is a fake thing. No LURD chairman can come and say we got some LURD forces in the mansion."

Pressed and reminded that someone in the mansion had informed the panel that there were indeed ex-LURD members on the EPS payroll, Aicha said she is willing to sit down with both the UN and the mansion to settle the matter because it is not true. "The people that say that one to say we have some LURD general on the EPS payroll and the Old Ma paying them... the UN should come and I be there so we all can talk, because some of them will not stop until we do it face to face. They must not hide the person. They should come and call the president and all of us. The president sit down and myself I sit and they identify the people them to us."

Asked whether she had any regrets about the people in her life who she has helped and now feeling a sense of betrayal, Aicha said: "Even if God give me the freedom tomorrow I will still help people. I don't have any regret. I will never regret helping people because if you help your friend human being that God can pay you. I can fight but I will not harm or fight any body. I will not damage anybody character or spoil anybody luck. And when God give me the hand I will still help people."

Ma Ellen 'Not Ungrateful' to Me

Aicha also dismissed speculations that Sirleaf had been ungrateful to her for the help she gave the President during her ride to the presidency in 2005. "Some people attack me, they say they heard Ma Ellen act ungrateful to me, so I am vex with Ma Ellen. I can only say that the woman never act ungrateful to me and I not vex with her. I am confused now because when I praise her they say I am boasting with her. When I close my mouth they say I am vex with her. I am not vex with her."

Contrary to widely held views,Aicha says Sirleaf has been good to her. "The woman she been good to me and if anybody say Ma Ellen ungrateful to me, I can say, you don't know what you are talking, she cares for me."

Aicha appealed to the UN panel to revisit their findings and hear her side of the story. "I want for the UN people to call the people them that gave them this information. Let us all sit down together and talk. Then they will know if I am the peace mother or whether I am among the people them that bring problem."

Aicha pointed much of the "fake" information given the panel to envy and jealousy. "You know under this sun here, everybody cannot love you. Some people thinking because they even say that Ma Ellen paying my house rent, Ma Ellen feeding me, Ma Ellen, so Ma Ellen doing this for me. To me, since they feel that Old Ma Ellen doing everything for me, this jealousy can make them to spoil my name to go between me and the old Ma by going to the United Nations and saying bad things about me to make the old ma turn against me."

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