-LFMW says, wants violence instigators brought to book
The Liberia National Police (LNP) and local authority in Sinoe County reportedly launched investigation into the contentious Tartweh-Drapoh community forest since a bloody episode that erupted in the community, but outcome of the probes remain elusive, a pro-forest advocacy and monitoring group has said.
There were reports of bloody fracas in early May this year in Playsikan, the heart of the Community Forest that is situated in Kpayan Statutory District, in which there were exchanges of gun fire (single barrel guns) that led to bodily injuries and burning of houses from opposing towns and villages over the governance of the community forest.
According to the Liberia Forest Media Watch, the government, especially the FDA has been dragging its feet since that grave forest incident. “We are calling the LNP and other stakeholders to speedily proceed with this investigation so we can know the people who plunge the community in that ugly situation,” the group said at a press conference in Monrovia on Thursday.
The LFMW is a conglomeration of independent and investigative journalists covering natural resource sector with emphasis on forest related issues, ranging from commercial forestry, community developments and conservation.
LFMW Coordinator, Moses Quollin noted that such action on the part of the government, to a greater extent, is undermining local and international efforts in sustainable forest governance and the fight against deforestation.
The community and local authorities are divided between two logging companies, Atlantic Resources Limited (ARL) and Universal Forest Cooperation (UFC), a Korean logging company, both of which are seeking logging rights to the forest. It is being alleged that UFC is fueling the conflict due to the company’s ‘late’ involvement and application to harvest the Community Forest.
Mr. Quollin said, “LFMW is concerned about the unabated conflict in the Tartweh Drapoh community forest since the beginning of this year that involves strategic local authorities with vested interests.”
He said independent investigation done by LFMW consistently featured the names of county and district authorities as well as traditional leaders.
“The issues in Tartweh Drapoh is purely influenced by selfish quests, mostly coming from politicians in and out of the government,” he said.
Although the FDA halted all activities in the community pending investigation, the group Coordinator is frustrated that the government is yet to take concrete action to bring to book perpetrators of the shooting incident despite several inquiries from the disturbance.
“Sadly, too, the FDA or the Ministry of Justice is yet to make public her findings from the investigation, if there was ever an investigation done as promised,” he noted.
“All we have been hearing is barrage of allegations and counter allegations of bribery, incitement and violation of forest laws by former and current officials of the county,” he said.
The reported involvement in the management of community forest, Mr. Quolin noted, is undermining the 2009 Community Rights Law (CRL), which gives communities the right to control, protect, manage and develop their forest resources without hindrances. The essence of community forestry is meant to promote decentralization and unite ordinary residents in fostering the developmental drives of their respective communities; a local ownership of forests.
However, in the midst of unprecedented conflicts, and failure by government to penalize perpetrators of the shooting incident, there are efforts underway to remove the leadership of the Community Forestry Management Body (CFMB), sources have hinted the Daily Observer.
But Quolin noted that the hastily removing the leadership of CFMB in the midst of impunity suggests something sinister, especially with the involvement of key decision makers of the county.
“In our mind, removing the CFMB leadership who are in the middle of the controversies is an attempt to evade justice and give power to friendly allies for the protection,” he said.
Also in the midst of these conflicts, there are reports that “heavy hands” are pushing for the signing of controversial third-party agreement (social agreement) with certain company. This is counterproductive to the growth and development of our country in terms of the sustainable management of our forestry sector for the benefit of all Liberians.
As a pro-forest media advocacy group, the LFMW is calling for a complete halt to ongoing negotiations… be it new contracts for Tartweh-Drapoh forest, until all relevant means are exhausted and all parties are satisfied.
The group also called on all appointed or elected government officials involved in the case to desist “as we call on government to commit to a conclusion of full investigation into the cause of the crisis,” he added.
“Gone are the days of PUP—Private Use Permit, a system where, according to Global Witness’s ‘Power to the People’ report, rapacious logging companies took advantage of a complacent FDA to rob poor citizens and the country of millions of dollars. Liberia’s 42% of the Upper Guinea forests must benefit all Liberians, not a selfish few–pocketed by self-proclaimed investors, illegally hustling on the forests,” he concluded.
Meanwhile, LFMW’s goal is to ensure the protection, preservation and judicious use of Liberia’s forest and its attendant resources for the benefits of present and future generation. The group was established early this year following intensive trainings in Independent Forest Monitoring (IFM) conducted by Volunteers to Support International Developments in Africa (VOSIEDA), under the European Union Non-State Actors (EU-NSA) project.