7 July 2014

Liberia: Bloody Clash in Nimba County

Photo: Tami Hultman/allAfrica.com
A mountain-side site of Arcelor Mittal, 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of Yekepa.

At least five protesters and six officers of the Liberia National Police or LNP sustained gunshot wounds when rampaging youths from towns near ArcelorMittal-Liberia operations in Nimba clashed with riot police after the former attacked the company destroying several equipment including a train and heavy duty mining truck.

The wounded are said to be seeking treatments at various health centers in the county.

The rampaging youths from the north eastern Liberian county also set ablaze a bridge linking Yekepa and Ivory Coast during the bloody demonstration. ArcelorMittal is the world's leading steel and mining company, with a presence in more than 60 countries and an industrial footprint in over 20 countries.

It all started early Thursday morning, July 3, 2014, when the youths under the banner Tokadeh Progressive Youths for Peace and Development from towns including Zolowee, Gpaba, Mehkinto, Sehkimpa and others began the demonstration by erecting roadblocks to the mine's entry points, railroads and offices.

The move, they claimed, was intended to register their displeasure against the junta-Yekepa Highway, the County Social Development Fund and other issues affecting their communities.

But our correspondent says the situation turned nasty when riot officers from the Police Emergency Response Unity or ERU and the Police Support Unit or PSU fired several tear gas canisters to disperse the crowd.

The protesters immediately went wide as hundred of them entered the mines set ablaze several equipment including a train and heavy duty truck.

The demonstrators also looted other office equipment and construction materials. Some of the protesters who were said to have carried firearms also fired at the riot police.

Our correspondent said the demonstrators had brought normal activities at the mines to a standstill for several hours before the ERU and PSU could rush on the scene. He said after hours of persuasive methods failed to get the demonstrators off the mines the police fired tear gas canisters into the crowd, thereby creating a pandemonium as demonstrators resorted to the act of vandalism and looting.

The District #2 Representative of Nimba Prince O.S Takpah who was said to be at the scene of the demonstration was arrested along with several others in the process but later released after he was identified.

In addition to other development projects the locals told our correspondent that they have on several occasions complained of how the company have not only taken over their crops, but its vehicles often killed their animals without redress.

"We are still assessing the damage," Hesta Pearson, ArcelorMittal Communications Director told this paper via mobile phone Sunday, a day after calm had returned to the mines.

"Damage assessment has started. It would appear that there has been significant damage to the Afcons office which is close to the site entrance," Mrs. Pearson said in an official statement earlier.

The government in a stamen issued Sunday said calm had returned to the northeastern Liberian county, confirming that several arrests had also been made.

"The Liberia National Police (LNP) 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," it said.

In a statement issued by the Executive Mansion, the government said 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 to private properties, as well as injuries to at least six police officers and damage to public roads and bridges," it continued.

"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", Information Minister Lewis Brown said.

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