Liberia National Police has disclosed the arrest of twelve people who they claimed are responsible for recent clashes between Burkinabes and some citizens of Nimba County — a situation which left several persons wounded.
According to the police, 29 suspects were arrested, and, after a rigorous screening process, 12 are being held culpable for the injuries sustained by the victims.
“The suspects are presently detained at the headquarters of the Sanniquellie Police Detachment in Nimba County, waiting to be forwarded to court,” police spokesman H. Moses Carter said in a Facebook post.
The clash between Burkinabes and residents of Old Yourpea Town, Nimba County, ensued over allegations of land encroachment.
Old Yourpea is located in the Kparblee District, not far from the country’s border with Ivory Coast in Nimba.
The clash, which occurred a week ago, came after citizens of Yourpea had demanded of the Burkinabes to leave their land.
But the police authorities, after deploying over a hundred armed officers, claimed calm had been restored following the May 16 incident.
“Calm has been restored and residents who fled the area due to the conflict have returned to the town and are going about their normal businesses,” Carter added.
Before the clash, security sources in Kparblee District told the Daily Observer that most of the citizens had been complaining about the presence of Burkinabes in their forest for some years now, calling on the government to remove the foreigners and have them deported.
Last week, the County Inspector, Mr. Mark Gblinwon, and the County Commander for the Liberia Immigration Service, Yei Dolopie, visited Old Yourpea for fact-finding. They warned the Burkinabes to stay out of the bushes until further notice.
They claimed that the Burkinabes carried on the exploitation of the forest and even jumped into the government forest.
Since 2019, the influx of Burkinabes in the Kparblee District has been high, with many opposing their presence and calling on the government to intervene. Residents complain that the presence of foreigners has increased and they continue to occupy their land.
The Burkinabes began entering from the Ivory Coast, where they have been carrying on substantial farming on a hire basis for decades.
They were hired by some chiefs within the Kparblee District on an arrangement to cultivate a certain acreage of land with cocoa and, when the crops reached a harvest point, the landowner and the hired Burkinabe would divide the harvest on a fifty-fifty basis.
With the vast land areas within the Kparblee areas, including the national forest, the Burkinabes continue to make their way through, sometimes using cash at some point to acquire lands.
About 100 Burkinabes are believed to have entered Kparblee and are carrying on active farming within the forest belt, according to some residents of the area.
The clash is said to have made many flee their homes in Old Yourpea, with other nearby communities threatening to forcibly move on the Burkinabes if the government failed to deport them.
A farmer from Old Yourpea, who earlier hired some Burkinabes to manage his cocoa farm, said after some years when he terminated the Burkinabes’ contract, the Burkinabes planted cobras on the farm, preventing him from visiting the farm.
“With this witchcraft behavior,” the farmer said he developed a hatred for the presence of the Burkinabes in their communities.
“They have an evil motive and we think their presence with us is not safe for our children,” he told the local authority.
The Nimba violence comes weeks after the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Embassy of Burkina Faso have agreed on what is believed to be an amicable solution to the alleged illegal occupation of Burkinabe nationals, mostly in the forest region of Grand Gedeh County.
The solution, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, is the profiling of all Burkinabe nationals in the region for one month, “allowing the government to take stock of where they reside and activities they are involved with.”
The Burkinabes, whose presence in the county has been an issue for the last five years — are accused of illegal encroachment on lands for farming. They have been trooping to Liberia in large numbers and, when crossed into Liberia, they settled in forest areas along the Ivorian-Liberian border, where they carry out coca farming, hunting, and pit sawing, despite “not having proper documentation.”
Accounts from locals in Grand Gedeh suggest that the Burkinabes could be seen with single barrel shotguns and other light weapons and power saws. They claim the migrants are exploiting forest resources and encroaching on farmlands and shrines to make cocoa farms.
The presence of the Burkinabe and other illegal migrants’ in Grand Gedeh, according to the Minister of Mines and Energy Gesler Murray in 2020, could one day lead to social marginalization — resulting in xenophobic and reprisal actions that could trigger a degree of social unrest.