Simeon Freeman, the political leader of the Movement for Progressive Change (MPC), wants the Government of Liberia, especially Defense Minister Brownie Samukai, “to leave squatters at the 72nd Barracks alone.”
Mr. Freeman said the decision to remove the squatters by force would disenfranchise them and get in the way of their peaceful participation in the October elections.
He claimed that the decision to order the squatters to vacate the 72nd Barracks is being influenced by “big hands” to cause serious disappointment among peaceful citizens who have registered to exercise their right to vote during the elections in that community.
Freeman said Minister Samukai’s ultimatum requiring the squatters to leave the barracks by May 1 “is a recipe for chaos because in 2011 the same decision to remove the residents from that community was not taken by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf because she wanted re-election. With only a few months left to elections, the government has come up with this decision, which I believe is not right and will create serious disappointments by keeping the citizens away from the process.”
He called on Defense Minister Samukai “to leave the people who are residing in the community alone to live their normal lives.”
Freeman said Minister Samukai is being “driven by a beaten snake that does not want peaceful elections to be conducted in the country.”
“Minister Samukai and President Sirleaf only have a few months to leave power,” Freeman said, “therefore, let them leave the people alone so that the next government can handle the issue. We want our people to participate in the electoral process.”
In a telephone interview, Assistant Defense Minister of Public Affairs, David Dahn denied that the decision to evict the squatters is being influenced by anyone, but based on the constant requests from members of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) that the 72nd Barracks was built for soldiers to reside there.
He explained that the Ministry of Defense has been criticized for not providing better homes for members of the AFL and therefore pressure is on the ministry to reclaim residences that belong to the soldiers.
“What we are doing is not a deliberate attempt to disenfranchise anybody, but we are working in the interest of members of the AFL. We call on Mr. Freeman to join us in the process so that our soldiers can have better homes,” Min. Dahn said.
Meanwhile, Charles Geh, the chairman of the 72nd Barracks Community, who has resided there since 1998, has welcomed Mr. Freeman’s appeal to the government and urged him to engage the government peacefully.
“We the residents of this community are very sad with the situation but we don’t want to engage the government with violence because it will affect the peaceful election in our country,” Geh told the Daily Observer. “We are kindly appealing to the government to see reason so we can leave after the October elections because our children are still in school and we want to participate in the voting process because we registered here in the community.”
Mr. Geh said currently there are over 1,083 occupants in the physical structure of the military barrack, while a little over 3,000 are squatters residing in and round the 72nd Military Barracks.
He said most of the squatters took shelter at the barracks during the country’s 14-year civil crisis, while others claimed they bought their lands and have established homes on them.
Minister Samukai recently gave the squatters a one month ultimatum, ending May 1, to either vacate military buildings meant for soldiers, or they would be forcefully removed.