Authorities at the Ministry of National Defense (MOD) in Monrovia have disclaimed (refute, deny) media reports that surfaced on Monday concerning renewed mercenaries activities along the Liberian/Ivorian border in River Gee County, Southeastern-Liberia.
Defense Minister, Brownie J. Samukai, Jr. on Monday denied any Liberian gunmen attacking Ivorian security forces as was reported over the weekend.
Minister Samukai has challenged relevant Ivorian authorities connected to the report to provide evidence of that allegation.
In an exclusive interview with Reuters, Minister Samukai explained among other things that the reports of Liberian mercenaries going into La Cote d’Ivoire was “false and misleading.”
As such, Samukai has assured the Ivorian government of Liberia's support in protecting its borders at all times.
Liberia's border with Ivory Coast is one of the most porous in West Africa; it is covered with vast forest land, particularly in the southeastern region.
"There are no Liberian mercenaries leaving here to go and fight in The Ivory Coast. If they say they have seen mercenaries, I challenged them; they should produce at least evidence to the international community.
We have re-assured Ivoirians that an inch of Liberia territory will not be used to destabilize any country," Minister Samuka assured the Ivoirian government.
"This is an Ivorian problem, and they need to find a way to solve it. They should exclude Liberians from it. We have worked diligently with the Ivorian security forces. We have excellent relations with the security authorities, and we have direct exchange of notes with our counterparts," he explained.
Ivorian security forces are supposed to have said on Sunday, that gunmen from Liberia entered the southern part of the country, and attacked security forces there. Four people were said to have been killed and some people arrested.
"We want to state and deny any Liberian mercenaries involvement in such activities. We believed if there is a problem on the other side of the border, they need to solve it. Liberians need to be left alone. "
"We are using our meager resources to protect our borders. We are tired of problems. We just ended our war and we have assured our neighbors that we will not allow any form of aggression to go into their country from here."
Minister Samukai then stressed the urgent need of the two countries to protect their borders through constant border patrols.
If there has been any problem there, we would have seen the movement of people from the borders towards Liberia. But there has not been any movement of people."
According to Samukai, Ivory Coast has a higher military capability than Liberia does; “they have more equipment than we do. I think we need to work closer together here.
"I am shocked by this report,"
The attack comes less than a year after Ivory Coast and Liberia agreed to open their respective borders.
Reuters reported Sunday that at least four Ivorian soldiers and several attackers were killed when suspected gunmen from Liberia raided a border town in Liberia. Gunmen from Liberia have carried out several assaults on towns near the border in recent years, which the government and the United Nations have blamed on allies of former President Laurent Gbagbo.
Ivory Coast, the world's top cocoa-producing nation, is recovering from a decade-long political crisis that culminated in 2011, in a brief civil war after Gbagbo refused to accept his election defeat by Alassane Ouattara.
Ivory Coast’s Defense Minister, Paul Koffi Koffi, also told Reuters that the latest attack took place early on Sunday in the small town of Grabo, but that the situation was now under control.
"They attacked a border post. We had to pull back. UN troops intervened to support us," Koffi Koffi said. "What is clear is that the situation is now under control."
He said several attackers were killed, but did not have an exact death toll. Local authorities and residents reached by telephone said that at least four Ivory Coast soldiers were killed and three gunmen were arrested.
Yaya Coulibaly, a parliamentarian from Grabo, said he was told by the local army commander that four soldiers died.
"I'm in contact with the mayor who said that the situation was returning to normal, but there was still some tension due to sporadic gunfire that is still being heard," Coulibaly said.
Grabo resident Ouattara Do, a director of a local cocoa cooperative, said the attack took place around 4:00 a.m., when the assailants crossed over from Liberia.
"They attacked the local gendarme post and the army camp. They were pushed back with the help of the UN forces in Ivory Coast," Do said.
The attack comes as President Ouattara is recovering after an operation in a French hospital this month, while former President Gbagbo is awaiting trial at the International Criminal Court for suspected crimes against humanity during the war, in which around 3,000 people died.
The border was for several months shut down in 2012, due to an attack in June 2012. It was partially reopened, but only in Maryland County in the far Southeast, making it possible to cross into the Ivory Coast between Saniquellie (past Ganta) and Man.
Western Ivory Coast has been plagued with violence for more than a decade, and incidents have increased since the post-electoral crisis of December 2010-April 2011.
Supporters of Ivorian former President Laurent Gbagbo, who had to be ousted from power by force in April 2011, after losing an election, have been blamed for the June 8 attack in which Nigerian troops were killed. The assailants were based in Liberia.
At the end of July, Liberian authorities said that they had arrested four people suspected of involvement in the attack. Just last week, the head of the UN refugee agency in Liberia expressed concern over the alleged "forced extradition" of 14 Ivorian refugees.
Khassim Diagne told the BBC they were among a group of 23 accused by the Ivory Coast of being mercenaries.
The Liberian security forces are alleged to have handed them over to their Ivorian counterparts. Liberia's government said it was not aware of the extraditions and would investigate.