— Sekou Damate Conneh, others, floating dredges on St. Paul River without valid mining license
Residents of Marwah Town in Fuamah District in Bong County, said they are living in fear and unsatisfied life, “because of the illegal mining activities on the bank of St. Paul River, by ex-warlord, Sekou Damate Conneh Jr., a former leader of the disbanded rebel faction, Liberians United for United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD).
While Mr. Conneh, now president of Etamad Incorporated, did not deny his mining activities at St. Paul River, a man who claimed to have accompanied him to the community, Samuel Kollie, alleged that Conneh has been operating in Marwah using expired documents he claimed to have acquired from authorities at the Ministry of Mines and Energy.
Kollie is a prominent citizen of Fuamah District, specifically Gaikpellei Town, where he resides. A former police officer, Kollie was a contender for representative of the district (Bong County, District #7) in the 2017 legislative elections. He lost to Papa Kolleh.
According to Kollie, Conneh is still using his license, which expired since 2013, to fool the people in order to carry on his mining in the St. Paul River.
“I am a legitimate miner, but it is only unfortunate that my mining license has expired, yet I am in the process of renewing it from the Ministry of Land, Mines and Energy. While in the process few weeks ago, a lady who I entrusted my money with, to run after the documentation on my behalf, has mysteriously gone into obscurity,” Mr. Conneh explained.
Kollie said Mr. Conneh has been mining on the shore of the river near Marwah Town for the past several months, with some aliens believed to be from Guinea and Mali, dredging in the middle of the water.
The situation, residents said, has polluted the source of the water, which they depend on for drinking and other livelihood applications, since the hand pumps in the town have all gone into disrepair.
On that allegation, Mr. Conneh added, “I am not operating illegally, but unfortunately, my license has expired. My brother, there are over 15 dredges over St. Paul that are controlled by foreign nationals, among them several Malians and Ghanaians. So why target me as illegal miner?”
An official of the Ministry of Mines and Energy (named withheld) informed the Daily Observer on Tuesday, April 23, that “anyone claiming to have obtained documents from the ministry to dredge anywhere in the country is misleading the rural people to steal their God-given resources, because the ministry has since declared all dredges illegal across the country.”
According to the source, anybody claiming to be in possession of a document from the government to dredge any river, that person is fake and their action tantamount to fraud.
“This is because one of the Assistant Ministers (not named) is conniving with marauding fraudsters, posing as employees of the ministry, but they are not on salary.”
Our source confirmed the presence of Mr. Conneh, but said there are three groups that are illegally mining along the St. Paul river, with some in Marwah (Lower St. Paul), Sarmai and Diekie towns (Upper St. Paul River).
“As I speak to you, a team of investigators has been dispatched to the area to put all those illegal activities under control as the minister has directed to do so in no time,” our source told this newspaper.
It all started on Sunday, April 14, when nine well-armed officers of the Liberian National Police (LNP) assigned with Police Support Unit (PSU), commanded by one Dakina Johnson, allegedly stormed Marwah Town, terrifying the residents as they were shooting sporadically in all directions.
“When the officers entered the town,” the residents said, “they started firing in all directions, taking human hostages that they allegedly manhandled to the extent that some of them lost consciousness.”
On the report of the alleged shooting, LNP spokesperson, H. Moses Carter, informed the Daily Observer that it is the residents’ right to write a letter of complaint to Bong County Police Regional Commander who, Carter said, will then follow up the case to appropriately inform Police Central authorities.
James Kolubah, Haindii Clan Chief, with jurisdiction over Marwah Town, also confirmed knowledge of Mr. Kollie’s mining operations. He said prior to Kollie’s coming to mine in the district, a consensus was generally reached, following the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Kollie and the Clan authorities, to build a guest house, school and other developments in the area.
In the MoU, the residents agreed to accept 18 grams of gold every week from the miners to develop the district.
On the allegation of police officers shooting to terrify the residents, Mr. Conneh denied having any knowledge of the presence of police or immigration officers in the area.
“Sincerely, I have not heard of any shooting whatsoever from anywhere. In fact, the news is so strange to me,” Mr. Conneh told the Daily Observer in a relax manner.
Meanwhile, according to reports officers of the LNP and LIS raided a number of foreign individuals in the town on grounds that they were carrying on illegal mining activities. The situation got citizens afraid and caused many to flee into the bushes.
Alvin Harris, 24, a resident narrated that when the police arrived, they started shooting and also arresting some of the residents, particularly those they claimed were connected to aliens who were “illegally mining in the water.”
They arrested me and beat me on the charge of being an accomplice of the Ghanaian miners,” Harris alleged.
According to him, they were reportedly informed by the police that their order to arrest and restore sanity to the district was sanctioned by big, big people, so we should not panic, because they were in the area to arrest people believed to be mining illegally.
Strangely to the residents, some of the officers reportedly burst into private homes, where they allegedly took away some food items and cooking utensils. Another resident, Samuel Mataidi, informed the Daily Observer that while it was true that LNP came to “arrest and remove illegal miners from the area, the task force action towards the citizens was so terrible.”
According to Matadi, their arrival brought flashback of the war days when there was no law and order. “We were afraid of the way in which the officers came and fired guns in the town,” Matadi said.
Due to the severity of the alleged shooting incident in connection to the illegal mining activities, Marwah Town Chief, Larmie Boakai, has appealed to the central government to intervene before the water is badly polluted.