"I can tell you that after careful review of all of the photographs and videos from the West Point riots last week, it has been established that both lethal and non lethal weapons were used in the shootings. It is on the basis of the new findings and development that the government has decided to set up a board of inquiry."- Brownie Samukai, Minister of National Defense, Liberia
Monrovia - Upon further review of photographs and videos from the scene of last Wednesdays' fatal shooting in West Point that left a 15-year-old boy dead, Liberia's Defense Minister Brownie Samukai has shifted from his earlier position that the boy, Shaki Kamara was injured as a result a barbed wire cutting, acknowledging to FrontPageAfrica Monday, that both lethal and non lethal weapons were used in the riots.
"I can tell you that after careful review of all of the photographs and videos from the West Point riots last week, it has been established that both lethal and non lethal weapons were used in the shootings," Minister Samukai said as he confirmed that a board of inquiry will now be set up to determine what took place last week. It is on the basis of the new findings and development that the government has decided to set up a board of inquiry," Samukai said.
Last Wednesday, Minister Samukai said Shaki sustained the cut from the barbed wire that was used for the blockade. "The wound is a superficial wound, a wound in which the individual was jumping or was running or through the stampede wounded himself," said Samukai. "The intention was not to harm anyone but just to keep the crowd away, instead of the crowd stoning and trying to hurt. Understand that people are beating up health workers and they have attacked a police vehicle and attacked security personnel. We cannot sit there, that is why we issued the warning shots to keep them away."
Samukai also said that no order was issued to any soldier to shoot ammunitions at the crowd: "Once again, I want to make it very clear, that the Armed Forces of Liberia have not been issued any orders to shoot to kill anybody out there at this point in time," said Defense Minister Brownie Samukai immediately following the riots on Wednesday. "Those soldiers are under orders from this point, no decision on the use of those weapons against any person can be issued without any clear instructions from the commander in chief to the minister of defense and through the chain of command of the Armed forces of Liberia."
The shooting also drew concern from the United Nations Mission in Liberia(UNMIL) whose head, Ms. Karen Landgren, told a news conference Friday said President Sirleaf had vowed that security force would not use such deadly force again. She said the deadly Ebola outbreak is having negative repercussions for Liberia. "We've seen the potential for security to deteriorate, even in the context of health efforts. The government is committed to applying the right measures together with communities, especially Ebola affected communities who need support, who need understanding and who need basic services," said Ms. Landgren. "And UNMIL welcomes the President's statement earlier today that under no circumstances would lethal force be used again. This epidemic is unprecedented, not only for Liberia but for the world. It's extraordinary. Liberia's many partners are determined to find an extraordinary response to meet these needs."
Minister Samukai's shift coincided Monday with a position statement from the opposition Liberty Party calling for an independent investigation into the saga in West Point last week.
The party, in a statement, condemned and strongly objected to any use of lethal force against the People of Liberia as a result of the crisis as it called on President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to ensure that an independent investigation is instituted into the circumstances surrounding the shooting death of Shaki Kamara in West Point. "Even in these difficult circumstances the rights of the People of Liberia are respected," the party said.
But Defense Minister Samukai said while the government, particularly the ministry welcomes the call from the opposition, the matter, the board of inquiry would be in conformity with the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) because military personnel were involved. "The Board of Inquiry will be strictly in conformity with the UCMJ, with the strong involvement of the U.S. military attaché, ECOWAS, the Liberia National Police, the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization and the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL)," Samuka explained.
The riots in West Point led to the death of Shaki Kamara, 16, who bled to death. Multiple reports suggested Monday that the government was making efforts to bury the teen, but was facing stiff resistance from the family and some political pressure calling for a full autopsy before the burial.
Shaki was buried Monday at the Muslim cemetery in Monrovia. A second boy, identified as Benny-Boy who reportedly sustained a bullet hole in the stomach during the riots is said to be currently at the S.D Cooper Clinic in Monrovia after family sources said bullet was removed from his stomach on Friday but the government maintains that it did not order state security forces to shoot.
Eva Nah, Shaki's mother called on the government over the weekend to allow her to view the dead body of her son. She told FrontPageAfrica that that on Wednesday morning she sent her son to buy tea for early morning breakfast only to hear later that he was shot by security officers. "They fired my son, I just sent the boy to buy tea that morning and people telling me they fired my son, they don't want me to see his body, I feel so bad", Eva told FPA.
The grieving mother has said since the West Point Isolation center incident her son has not left the house until the shooting incident and is therefore demanding to have access to his body. West Point Community Chairman Paul Kieh also expressed frustration at the manner in which state security forces reacted to the incident which he said involved shooting live bullets at civilians.
"I believe more people got shot by the soldiers, but some are not known yet," Kieh said. An uncle to Shaki who preferred to be called Gabriel also expressed anger at the action of state security forces. "They were just shooting not only in the air", Gabriel said. In the wake of the controversy, the opposition Liberty Party is recommending that the Armed Forces of Liberia only be deployed to support civilian authorities and defend the country against external threats.
In stating further conditions, the Liberty party is at the same time calling on the government to explain how the curfew is effective in fighting the spread of Ebola insisting that restrictions of freedom of movement be enforced as a last resort in very limited areas.
"The AFL is deployed only as was intended in our democratic form of government to support civilian authorities and defend the country against external threats; the government explains to the public how the curfew is effective in fighting the spread of Ebola; restrictions on freedom of movement are enforced as a last resort and only in very limited areas".
Contact tracing over quarantining
Liberty Party is also cautioning the government to prefer contact tracing rather than quarantining communities. The Party further stated "contact tracing" as a means of identifying and containing those who may have been exposed to the virus, is preferred over quarantining entire communities, especially since the government has been unable to provide basic necessitates, including food and medical supplies, for those currently quarantined". LP says it considers the opinion of the medical community that Ebola is a public health problem and therefore combating it requires primarily a public health solution.
"This, in our opinion, means that the national effort must have prevention as its focus. And we believe that the key to prevention is the dissemination of accurate and timely information necessary to effect the appropriate behavior changes. But the information would need to be disseminated through individuals and groups that the communities trust - their own sons and daughters. Certainly, the government's current efforts are not effecting behavior changes necessary to break the circle of infections quickly enough. The evidence still indicates that the whole national effort is not properly coordinated and that population does not trust the government's messengers who are conveying the Ebola message; hence, the unprecedented level of disbelief about Ebola and its fatal consequences" stated the Liberty Party.
The party says it believes the Government will achieve the greatest good for the country and end the needless Ebola deaths if she would delegate the day-to-day management of the Ebola Task Force (from herself) to an experienced domestic or International incident/emergency response manager, giving that individual the latitude and resource to carry out the needed task.
West Point took a violent turn last Wednesday shortly after the government declared the area a quarantine zone. Soldiers opened fire and used tear gas on crowds as they attempted to evacuate the township commissioner and her family. Prior to Wednesday's mail, some residents, including club-wielding youths stormed an Ebola isolation center last Saturday and looted the facility. At least four residents were injured in the clashes as government shut off the area in new security measures aimed at containing the deadly Ebola virus.
1,427 Ebola Deaths So Far
Sirleaf quarantined West Point along with Dolo's Town, located east of the capital, and imposed a nighttime curfew as part of drastic measures to fight the disease. According to the World Health Organization, at least 142 more cases were recorded last week, bringing the new total to 2,615 with 1,427 deaths. Most of the new cases are in Liberia, which is being overwhelmed by patients that were not previously identified. One center with 20 beds opened its doors to 70 possibly infected people, likely coming from "shadow-zones" where people fearing authorities won't let doctors enter, the UN health agency said Friday.
It is unclear whether the mounting pressure and pleadings from Shaki's mom and the opposition was a factor in the government's sudden turnaround. But political observers say, the sudden shift by Defense Minister Samukai could go a long way in addressing the concerns expressed in the aftermath of a saga eclipsing the deadly Ebola virus impact on post-war Liberia's resurgence.