Monrovia — Soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia have allegedly brutalized a female resident of the Airfield Community.
The soldiers took over the security of the James Spriggs Payne Airport in Sinkor from the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) Nigerian contingents few months ago.
Since 2005 there have been no complaints of brutality from the community dwellers by UNMIL soldiers manning the airport otherwise known by the mission as sector headquarters.
The Armed Forces of Liberia has since taken over from its Nigerian counterparts due to the drawdown of the UN Mission in Liberia.
Since the takeover by the Liberian soldiers, there have been numerous complaints of brutality and human rights violations being allegedly perpetrated by soldiers of the AFL.
Fear has gripped some nighttime goers, who normally come out to entertain themselves at the many entertainment centers around the Airfield.
Several persons have also complained that they have been allegedly tortured by the soldiers.
Fanta Keita is one of the recent victims; she was mercilessly flogged by an AFL soldier only identified as Sergeant Boakai.
Fanta told FrontPageAfrica that she and the soldier had no interaction or altercations; instead, she and another guy who she did not name, had a misunderstanding around the Old Folks entertainment center on the airfield.
She explained that she and the AFL errand boy had a misunderstanding, which resulted in a fistfight between them.
According to her during the fight, she tore the shirt of the AFL errand boy.
"I and the AFL soldier did not have any confusion, he only came after me and his errand boy had the confusion."
"I still had the boy's shirt in my hand when the AFL soldier told me to handover the shirt to him but I refused."
"Right away he started slapping me in the face, he dragged me from Old Folks to the AFL checkpoint where my blouse, bra and under wear were all torn up by the soldier," she explained.
The incident occurred on Sunday morning around 2:30 am.
Officer Boakai created a scene that morning according to onlookers, who confided in this newspaper.
Three persons were allegedly flogged, including Fanta Kieta.
Another victim identified as Sammie explained that officer Boakai whipped him (Sammie) in revenge of another errand boy.
"He told me to lie down so that he could give me 25 lashes on my back. I refused and he started punching me in my face."
"I only spared him because he was carrying a gun and he's a soldier," he said.
One of the onlookers said he overheard Sergeant Boakai saying he will not stop beating "foolish people" until they stop tempering with his errand boys.
The errand boys are being used by Officer Boakai as informants on the streets. They provide him with pieces of information.
Officer Boakai was reportedly intoxicated on the morning of the incident.
"He is a foolish soldier, who does not deserve to be in our army."
"That guy is very foolish and a drunk; he always does that."
"He insults people and violates their rights at any times and goes free. Who told him that when one is in the army, one can't be tolerant or polite," Jefferson Yarsiah, another eyewitness of the incident, noted.
Many in the Airfield Community felt happy when the AFL soldiers took over from their Nigerian counterparts.
But it seems community dwellers' hope and expectations were dashed when it emerged that soldiers of the army have began to harass and intimidate peaceful residents and others.
Residents of the community where the soldiers are posted have constantly complained that after certain hour of the night, their movements can be limited or prevented by the soldiers.
"We were happy to see our own soldiers takeover from foreign troops, but we have observed the Nigerian troops were better here than our own soldiers. Let me tell you this, the presence of the AFL is more fearful here than that of the Nigerian soldiers."
"When the UNMIL troops were here, we used to move about here freely without hindrance or harassment, but since our own brothers took over, it has been like hell," Samuel Yancy, a resident of the community averred.
"I have been provoked by the AFL soldiers at that check point. I was going behind there where my friend lives when I passed through the main checkpoint, those guys told me to go back to use the pedestrian's path after I almost past the check point."
"The soldier moved to me and told me to go back; I asked him why, he told me 'Are you going or not, if you fail to go back you will feel pain,'" Joshua Morris, another victim noted.
When our reporter contacted Sergent Boakai on this allegation on the same Sunday morning he allegedly beat the woman, he told Front-page Africa to go to hell.
The squad leader of the soldiers at the Spriggs Payne Airport, Lieutenant Archie B. Dolo, too, is reportedly seen with a rattan [whip] in his hands to beat on people.
Parents have complained of their kids also being whipped without reason by some AFL soldiers in the community.
"My son came home the other day with bruises and rattan marks on his back and body, he told me it was the AFL commander Dolo that beat him because he was wrestling with his friends. I had no option but to accept what they did to my son."
"We have never experienced such brutality when the Nigerians were here, but our own soldiers are now beating us like slaves," Mother Lucy Nelson explained in anger.
The good side of the AFL in the community
Though some of the dwellers on the Airfield have complained about the brutality of the AFL, some still believe that their presence is helpful in the community.
Most have said that since the soldiers were posted at the airport, the criminal rate in the community has dropped drastically.
Some residents have applauded the soldiers for their hard work being carried out for the short time they have been around.
"I think because of the way the soldiers are treating people in the community is causing the criminals to stay far away."
"If non-criminals can be treated in that manner, what's more about someone who will be caught as criminal," Joseph Johnson, another resident stated.
Squad leader Archie Dolo was unable to be reached as his phone rang endlessly without him answering when he was contacted by this newspaper late Monday evening before press time.
The residents of the Airfield Community in Monrovia are not the only ones to be complaining about the soldiers' behaviors to civilians.
Recently, a senior officer of the 23rd Infantry Brigade of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) in Bong County, Captain Francis Gbodi, apologized to citizens of Wainsue for the brutality AFL soldiers meted out on them.
There was a standoff between citizens of Wainsue and members of the AFL Engineering Company assigned at the Camp Tubman Military Barracks in Gbarnga.
Wainsue is few miles from Gbarnga along the road leading to Lofa County.
According to eyewitnesses, the commotion started when a female AFL officer in civilian clothes visited the town and had a misunderstanding with Lincoln Namakpeah, a citizen of the town.
Following a tussle between the two, she reportedly made a phone call to the barracks and some AFL soldiers immediately went to the town in a military vehicle and began beating up peaceful citizens.
When contacted very Monday evening, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Liberia, General Prince C. Johnson, said there is a chain of command in the army, for complaining any soldier of misbehavior. General Johnson said everyone needs to follow that path to lay a soldier's complaining to the higher authority.
He told this newspaper via mobile phone that, as of yet, there was no complaint on his desk complaining the particular soldier of alleged brutality.
However, he assured Fanta that the AFL will investigate the matter and find the soldier and if the internal investigation finds the soldier guilty, the soldier will be penalized according to laws.
"The AFL is not here to brutalize our civilians; we are here to protect our people and not to harm them."
"I assure you that we are going to look into Fanta's case if she comes to the Barclay Training Center (BTC) Barracks with her complaint," he stated.
He furthered stressed, "Under this new leadership headed by General [Daniel] Zeankan, we will not allow any soldier misuse his uniform and violate the rights of our people," he noted.
General Johnson called on the public to not hesitate in reporting any soldier whom they find to be acting unbecoming of a personnel of Armed Forces of Liberia.