Liberia: Gunmen Seize Cocopa, Claim Right of Inheritance

Gunmen, numbering 20 by the estimates of terrorized fleeing plantation workers, yesterday, reportedly seized and temporarily occupied the Cocopa Rubber Plantation in Nimba County.

The occupation reportedly lasted from dawn to dusk, and was only broken when the Bangladeshi Contingent of UNMIL intervened military.

The Analyst's Nimba County correspondent, Marcus Malayea, told our News Desk late yesterday that the men began the pre-dawn raid on the plantation from the Camp #1 Areas where the company's management resided.

Having routed officials of the plantation including General Manager George Hallie Lobbo, reports said, the attackers brandished machetes, single barrel guns, and AK-47 automatic rifles.

Our correspondent quoted one Roland Lartey, who fled the plantation, as saying that having routed the plantation officials, the raiders went about firing sporadically, ransacking several houses in the various divisions, pillaging whatever they could lay their hands on as plantation workers took to their heels far ahead of them.

As the situation intensified, he said, plantation workers fled in several directions, some running towards Saclepea, several miles away and the nearby provincial cross-roads city of Ganta. At the time of filing the report, he said, the whereabouts of the general manager and his lieutenants was unknown.

Two persons, one of whom was the brother of the plantation manager, were seriously wounded in the melee and taken to the Tappita Hospital several kilometers away for medical treatment.

Details of the attack which left the company property damaged and sent plantation workers scurrying for cover is not known, but our correspondent quoted eyewitnesses further as saying that the men who raided the plantation yesterday were representatives of unknown elements from the local tribes who are claiming inheritance of the plantation.

Eyewitnesses said the raiders were actually individuals who went to take control of the plantation, claiming that the contract signed with the present Management Team headed by Lobbo had expired.

Neither representatives of the raiders nor Mr. Lobbo could be contacted up to press time last night. The latter's contact number was said to be "either switched off or out of coverage areas" after several late night trials to reach him by phone.

Meanwhile, reports said the Bangladeshi Contingent of UNMIL based in the provincial cross-roads city of Ganta have begun moving into the plantation to put the situation under control.

Up to press time last night, it was not known how fast and to what extent the contingent, which has handled communal violence and threats of violence several times in the past, was able to handle this insurgency which many say came almost without warning.

This is not the first time Cocopa has come under attack by unknown armed men. It was reported sometime in May and June this year that the plantation was constantly attacked by nighttime raiders who took away rubber products and valuables from the plantation workers.

No one had been able to pin down the perpetrators who witnesses said wore masks during attacks, but this is the first time motives regarding expired contract were given.

But even this, observers say, raises fundamental questions of propriety. A claimant, they said, would not raid but would seek to remove a rival and establish control, most times, legally.

Besides, they said, Cocopa may have been raided in the past by men believed to be robbers, but it was never in dispute involving locals and management.

But whatever the matter, they said, has to be settled beginning with restoration of security on the plantation.

The Cocopa incident comes barely 36 hours after the government of Liberia and UNMIL took over the Guthrie Plantation in Grand Cape Mount and Bomi counties.

Like Guthrie and the Sinoe Rubber Plantations, Cocopa has been the target of former combatants who have been living off commandeered rubber products on arguments that they were not adequately rehabilitated and resettled under the UN DDRR Programme launched in May 2004.

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