Monrovia — The Government of Liberia says the National Police has restored calm to the mining city of Yekepa, Nimba County and the concession area of Arcelor Mittal, after individuals identifying themselves as the Tokadeh Progressive Youths for Peace and Development led a rampage on the mining site and surrounding areas.
According to an Executive Mansion release, a number of the ringleaders, including those who shot at the police, have been arrested and are being brought to Monrovia for further investigation and prosecution.
The full extent of the damage, which is still being assessed, includes destruction of private properties, as well as injuries to at least six police officers and damage to public roads and bridges.
Speaking for the Liberian Government, Information Minister Lewis Brown said, "There is no tolerance in this society for those who act outside the law by expressing grievances through violence, destroying properties, assaulting law enforcement officers, and violating the rights of others. All such individuals will face the full weight of the law", the Minister concluded.
Meanwhile, the Government of Liberia has assured the management of Arcelor Mittal, and all private and foreign investors that no action will be spared to protect lives and properties as well as the general well being of their staff and employees.
The Government has also expressed appreciation to the peaceful and law-abiding citizens within the Yekepa Community who refused to be a part of such destructive activity, and has reassured all Liberians of the full protection of their rights to live in peace and safety in their communities.
Shootings, Ambush & Riots: Echoes of Violence Resurrects in Nimba
Jerry Mwagbe, Resident Communications Manager at ArcelorMittal Liberia posted on his Facebook page Friday that the protesters resisted attempts by the company to resolve the matter and claimed that many of the protesters were intoxicated. "Attempts by the company's managers to engage with the demonstrators, many of whom appeared to be drunk, were unsuccessful. Police arrived at the scene but did not engage with the crowd at this point. At about 11am the County Attorney arrived and tried to disperse the crowd, but he was booed and jeered and he left."
Mwagbe wrote that the group's leaders identified themselves as the Tokadeh Progressive Youths for Peace and Development and were protesting against the Ganta-Yekepa Highway, the County Development Fund and other issues that were recently dealt with in a tripartite meeting held between government officials, advocacy groups from the county and management representatives from the company.
Mwagbe said by 12:30, demonstrators who had been standing at the entrance to the mines, moved into the operational areas and started to attack employees of AFCONS, a sub-contractor working on Phase II of construction in the mines. "At about 1pm reinforcements from the Public Safety Unity of the Police arrived on the scene, and by 1:30 started to disperse the crowd. Tear gas was fired and the crowd, which had seemed poised for a confrontation, scattered only to return within a few minutes. Some of the rioters were armed and opened fire on the police."
Mwagbe also said that rioters had entered the mines and had started to loot equipment and construction materials. The Mittal spokesman said the company had engaged the government, who has been working along with Mittal to resolve the matter.
Mwagbe however, noted that employees of the company were being held against their will in the warehouse at the mine. "They have been held up for the last 20 hours with no access to food. Confined in the workshop and cannot come because of fear of hostile protestors. We are awaiting police intervention. In the meantime, the employees have been calm and are holding up well," he added.
A FrontPageAfrica correspondent on the scene reported Friday that protesters opened fire on police and ambushed a white Police jeep in the process, burned a bridge in the process and damaging a lot of properties were damaged.
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.