4 July 2014

Liberia: Shootings, Ambush & Riots - Echoes of Violence Resurrects in Nimba

Nimba County, the scene where the Liberian civil war started more than a decade ago has ruptured into violence again fueled on Thursday when a protest in the town of Zolowee in Nimba County over the operations of world Steel giant Arcelor Mittal, triggered fears and tension and drawing condemnation from members of the county's caucus in the national legislature.

Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Front of Liberia launched the civil war using the Nimba County towns of Bhutuo and Karnplay as a launching pad for the war, recruiting mostly ethnic Gios and Manos who felt persecuted by Doe.

Doe's troops retaliated against the whole population of the region, attacking unarmed civilians and burning villages.

This time around, the conflict which has been brewing for some time now involves the concession group, Arcelor Mittal and contract workers claiming unpaid wages.

Protesters reportedly opened fire on police and ambushed a white Police jeep in the process, burned the bridge linking Sanniquellie to Yekepa, not far from former Nimba Superintendent Rachel Miller's house, in the process and damaging a lot of properties, a FrontPageAfrica correspondent on the scene reported Friday.

Senator Thomas Grupee(NUDP, Nimba), head of the Nimba County legislative caucus condemned the situation but has at the same time cautioned the police mainly the Emergency response Unit (ERU) to refrain from using force against the people.

Senator Grupee told FrontPageAfrica Friday morning that eyewitnesses on the ground informed that protestors blocked the main entrance leading to the Mittal Steel operated mine and damaged some properties belonging to the company.

He explained that the incident escalated after the police used tear gas and fired gunshots into the air, prompting some protestors to also use single barrels guns in the process.

Police sources tell FrontPageAfrica the some protesters, using single barrel hunting rifles retaliated and opened fire on the ERU.

Police provoked crisis, Senator Says

"The information we are getting is that the police fired in the air and also used tear gas, and some people also used single barrel guns, so we are calling on the protestors to abandon their protest and put their grievances on paper for us to work to address them and we are also calling on the Government mainly the ERU to stop using force on the people", the lawmakers said.

The lawmaker said there are reports that some protestors have been tied to the train track by the ERU, describing such occurrence as ugly and not health in solving the confusion.

Senator Grupee said two members of the Nimba Legislative caucus Representatives Larry Yonguoi and Prince Tokpah have been sent to the county to work along with the Superintendent and other local officials in bringing the situation under control.

"As speak to you, I will be leaving for Nimba this morning; I have spoken to the President about three times, she is concerned, I am always on the line with the Minister of Internal Affairs and also the management of Mittal Steel as we fight to bring this situation under control".

Late Thursday, a local county official confirmed to FrontPageAfrica late Thursday that protesters blocked main roads and caused tension in Zolowee town demanding recounting of crops as a means of receiving compensation from Mittal for stopping them from farming in certain localities.

Teeko Tozay Yorlay, assistant County Superintendent for development, explained that compensation has been paid over the years to locals for use of their land for roads and other mining activities by Mittal with over US$4.2 million already paid to the locals.

The official said it has been suspected that some individuals who are not from the communities are masterminding the current protest using the situation to extort money.

"We learnt that some people who do not even hail from the communities are holding rubber seedlings and taking part in the protest using the situation to get money from the company by causing trouble but we are working with local chiefs to know the real land owners and solve the problem", Assistant Superintendent Yorlay said.

A Mine Resettlement Coordinating Committee, comprising the Ministries of Agriculture, Gender and development, the Environmental protection Agency, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Civil Society organizations and others, he said have been working with Mittal over the years on payments to the communities and the process has been going on smoothly.

Protestors want crops recount

Assistant Superintendent Yorlay said the protestors are claiming that some of their crops were not counted during the counting process in 2010 and are therefore demanding a recount.

"They are saying that some of their crops were not counted in 2010, and they want a recount, so on tomorrow we will be having a joint security meeting to solve the problem" Yorlay said.

He indicated that they are calling on the protestors to engage the process through dialogue rather than using violence.

Nimba County pays host to world steel Giant Mittal Steel after the company signed a 25 year mineral development agreement with the government of Liberia to mine iron ore in the country.

As part of its social corporate responsibility the company has paid millions of dollars to three counties- Nimba, Bong and Grand Bassa for its operations with Nimba getting the lion share.

The current protest is not the first as in the past there has been protest against the operations of the company with some locals demanding compensation for use of their land which has made them to be unable to make farms.

After a recent protest, Mittal displayed photographs of development it has carried out since it began operations in the county including the construction of clinics, schools and other undertakings.

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