25 August 2014

Liberia's President Calls for Probe of West Point Ebola Violence

Photo: FrontPageAfrica
Liberian security forces patrol the streets after clashes with protesters as they enforce the quarantine of Monrovia's heavily populated district of West Point.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has called for creation of a board of inquiry to look into last week's Ebola-related rioting and deadly shooting in the West Point slum of Liberia's capital, Monrovia.

Information Minister Lewis Brown said the board will have 10 days to submit its findings to the president.

The government quarantined West Point last Wednesday as part of an effort to contain the deadly Ebola virus.

Soldiers opened fire and used tear gas on residents as they attempted to stop the government from evacuating their commissioner from the township.

At least four residents were wounded and one of them, a 16 year-old boy, has died of his wounds.

Defense Minister Brownie Samukai told VOA last week soldiers did not shoot at the residents, and claimed the wounded were trying to break a barbed wire security barrier.

Relatives of the dead boy said he died from gunshot wounds.

"Unfortunately, we've had reports of three injuries. One has died. The government is in touch with the family. We've expressed our deepest condolences. The president has, meanwhile, ordered the defense minister to set up a board of inquiry and within 10 days determine the facts and circumstances leading to the situation last Wednesday and report to her for further action," he said.

"Of course, the order of the president was to use non-lethal force. That's why she has ordered the immediate setting up of a board of inquiry to report to her within 10 days on the facts and circumstances as to what happened on Wednesday," Brown continued.

There have been calls for an independent investigation because some residents of West Point have said they don't believe the army can be impartial.

Brown said the army will be fair using its own internal investigative process.

"Usually in these types of boards the military has its own internal mechanisms to deal with inquiries. They have their own sets of rules. As you know, they're guided by a code of military justice; they have specific instructions as to engagements," he said.

Some Liberians have said the violence in West Point was the result of the government's lack of coordination in managing the Ebola crisis. Others have even called for the privatization of the country's response to the crisis.

Brown said the government respects the rights of all Liberians to express their opinions. But, he said, allegations of government incompetence are untrue.

"We have never hidden the fact that this is a difficult situation and we have requested assistance from our international partners. Thankfully, they are responding to this serious emergency. And so, those who have opinions other than what we're doing, we welcome those opinions. But, our duty continues to be to focus on this crisis. We'll do the Monday morning quarterbacking when this is over," Brown said.

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