The Daily Observer has received with dismay reports of alleged extortion of money from drivers by some officers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) deployed at Water Side border checkpoint between Bong and Lofa counties.
According to eyewitnesses, AFL officers stationed at Water Side Bridge on Monday, August 11, impounded over 20 commercial vehicles including trucks loaded with food items from Lofa County, demanding L$500 from each of the truck drivers.
Assistant Defense Minister David K. Dahn has, however, denied soldiers’ involvement with extortion or taking bribes from drivers. Speaking with our defense correspondent via mobile phone Thursday, August 14, Mr. Dahn maintained that the Ministry has not received any complaint of such, insisting that AFL soldiers will never involve themselves in bribes taking from drivers or anyone for that matter.
AFL soldiers were recently deployed at the border to enforce the State of Emergency declared by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in the wake of the Ebola epidemic in Liberia. The eyewitnesses at the county-border checkpoint told our reporter that tension erupted between the soldiers and drivers on August 11 after the drivers refused to give them (soldiers) money.
According to the our sources, over 20 vehicles were denied from entering Bong County by the AFL soldiers. Lofa County is one of the counties that have been badly hit by the Ebola outbreak and thus quarantined by the government since the State of Emergency was declared recently.
“Movement of goods from Lofa County is very difficult,” eyewitnesses said. They explained that the vehicles were held by the soldiers until Wednesday and were only released after the intervention of officers from the Bong County Police Detachment of the Liberia National Police (LNP).
“The drivers and some of the commuters took the soldiers’ complaint to the Paramount Chief of Zota Chiefdom Madam Lorpu Kollie, who fruitlessly pleaded with the soldiers to allow the trucks through,” said business woman Madam Annie Tokpa.
When contacted yesterday, Zota Chiefdom Paramount Chief Madam Lorpu Kollie confirmed the incident saying it was only on Wednesday that the vehicles, which were loaded with food supplies including oil, rice, pepper and bitter ball, amongst others, were allowed to leave for Monrovia.
“I went to Water Side on Wednesday and saw the trucks being released,” said the Paramount Chief. “I met the drivers and advised them to beg the AFL soldiers to release their vehicles. But they stood their grounds that they were not going to give money to any security officer [not even AFL soldiers] at the gate.”
According to the Paramount Chief, it was the intervention of LNP officers from Bong County that led to the resolution of the impasse between the soldiers and the drivers. There have been no reports of extortion, however, by AFL in Western Liberia.
According to eyewitnesses and commuters, army officers have been giving humanitarian assistance to hundreds of poor people in Bomi and Grand Cape Mount counties. “The army has been very helpful to our people,” said Sando G. Morlu. “They help our people when they are in need.”