Liberia: Security Threat Looms

Lofa County Senator Steve Zargo, a former senior police officer, is warning of a looming national security threat as Liberia goes toward election due in part to placement of wrong persons in the security force, weakening civil law enforcement agencies and vulnerability of some counties here to illegal gold mines that breed fundamentalism.

Mr. Zargo told local broadcaster OK FM in Monrovia Tuesday, 4 August that prior to the Senate's closure, he forwarded to the Senate's leadership 10 different issues, some bordering on the country's survival and the looming national security threat that has the propensity to lead to problems if not dealt with.

"Even before we were closing, I forwarded to them 10 counts, 10 different issues that I raised. Some of them bordered on the survival of this country, national security threat, looming national security threat that if not handled, it has the propensity ... ," he says.

"If you call the President Pro - tempore and leadership of the Senate, they will tell you no one speaks to national security issues more than Zargo," he explains.

According to Zargo, if you go to the counties, you will see dredging on Liberian waters and gold mines, warning that these are places where crime is breeding from and fundalisms start from.

He warns that if fundamentalism starts and nothing happens to correct it, no sooner or later you will find what is happening in Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast starting here in the various counties of Liberia.

Zargo cautions that security issues are porous, noting that as Liberia goes towards election, it is known that the threat level has increased given the huge anxiety by everyone's desire to win elected seats.

"So against this background, we need to ensure that all of our [Security] Hubs are up and running, and don't wait until the incident happens before you respond to it," he says.

Before reaching this point today, Sen. Zargo, an opposition lawmaker recalls that Liberia had a lot of reforms in the security sector and a lot of benchmarks were set when the international partners were here [during former President Ellen Johnson - Sirleaf's regime].

According to the Lofa county Senator, the regional hubs were established to ensure rapid response to unfolding events, noting that by now, there should have been a hub in Gbarnga, Bong County for the police, immigration and the military to respond to situations in Bong, Lofa and Nimba counties.

Also, he says there should have been another one either in Grand Gedeh or Maryland and an additional one in Bomi, totaling either three or four hubs across the country to enhance rapid response.

"There's no reason why up to now we cannot ensure those things that are written on the book as part of our security sector reform, there's no reason why we're not doing them," he says, adding that if these things were being done, there would have been sufficient police deployment to curtail the recent violent incident in Grand Gedeh.

He questions the government as to why it has to bring in the military for a civil issue in Grand Gedeh, arguing that the military is only brought in when there is an escalation and there are rules of engagement and the para - military is incapacitated to respond. "Why should you make the para - military incapcitated? This thing is intentional," Sen. Zargo suggests.

"So coming back to what transpired in Grand Gedeh, I have been following with interest, it's regrettable, it's uncalled for, and it's uncivil. I hear the president has constituted a team to investigate, but the president himself is responsible for what has transpired," Sen. Zargo alleges.

He expresses hope that President George Manneh Weah will act on the recommendation that will be made by the Justice Minister following investigation into the Grand Gedeh incident, noting that several investigations have been done but the president sits on them.

The Lofa Senator says the joint security and national security actors here will have to explain to the Senate on the status of the various hubs and what prompted the decision that led to bringing the military out.

He calls on President Weah and the Minister of Justice to ensure that civil law enforcement institutions are visible in all of the counties, warning that what happened in Grand Gedeh is just an example of bigger things that may happen.

Besides the Grand Gedeh incident, Sen. Zargo recalls the recent altercation between opposition Montserrado County District #10 Rep. Yekeh Kolubah and Deputy Police Inspector General for Operations Col. Marvin Sackor, saying what Col. Sackor did to the lawmaker was very wrong.

Though Sen. Zargo says if he were involved, he could not have used Rep. Kolubah's approach, however he insists that Sackor should have also exercised restraints and used his description in dealing with the issue involving the lawmaker.

He suggests that once Sackor noticed that Yekeh was misbehaving, he simply needed to leave from the scene, approach the Speaker of the House of Representatives and take advantage of the remedy at law, noting that two wrongs cannot make a right.

Zargo insists that Yekeh and Sackor owe the public apology for their conduct, saying both of them had remedies under the law and therefore they should not have done what they did.

Additionally, Mr. Zargor notes that if President Weah had accepted his proposal to serve as an extended National Security Advisor, he could have advised the president that before appointing anyone as Police Inspector General or Deputy Police Inspector General, that person must have gone through the Liberia National Police Training Academy.

He notes that his colleagues in the Senate may be regretting by now on their decision to confirm Col. Sackor while he (Zargo) was away in Senegal.

"I tell you one thing, if you had Mickey Gray there, or if you had Godfrey or if you had Abraham Kromah, they would never had done what Sackor had done because Sackor did not go to the Liberia [National Police] Training Academy," Sen. Zargo claims, adding that Sackor's behavior was uncalled for.

He argues that Sackor got his military background from America so he didn't have the Liberian culture embedded in his training, noting that every law enforcement training has its own culture and tradition. He notes that the culture and tradition at the Liberia National Police Training Academy tells you that you can take insult and not assault.

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