The management of Golden Veroleum-Liberia has released a preliminary report on last Tuesday’s violent incident at its concession area in Butaw, Sinoe County, terming it as a regrettable loss.
The report said of several employees that sustained injuries, a Liberian and an expatriate, were severely wounded and flown to Monrovia for treatment.
Describing the incident during a news conference in Monrovia last week, GVL’s head of corporate communication, Mr. Virgil Magee, said there was massive looting and substantial damage to properties including IT equipment, vehicles and other assets at staff quarters.
The company’s rice warehouse from which rice is distributed to employees as part of their monthly wages, was looted and destroyed as well as part of the recreation building.
A thorough assessment is still ongoing following which the cost of the damages will be announced, said McGee.
He indicated that up to the present, the damaged and plundered concession area is still considered a crime scene by the Liberia National Police (LNP).
“On Sunday, May 24, GVL received a letter from the Butaw Youth Association requesting an immediate meeting with management. GVL was holding a senior management meeting on the Butaw site over the weekend and planned to undertake field visits for the remainder of the week,” Magee narrated.
“So the management replied that due to the short notice the meeting should be scheduled for later in the week,” Mr. Magee explained.
“However, on the morning of Tuesday, May 26, approximately 20-25 members from Butaw Youth Association blocked the entrance to the GVL Butaw farm site, preventing workers from entering.”
Mr. Magee said the company informed Deputy Internal Affairs Minister Varney Sirleaf, who had provided mediation in the past, and he arranged a delegation, including the Minister of Gender and Development, Madam Julia Duncan Cassell, who was acting as Chairman of the Cabinet, during President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s absence from the country.
“The delegation arrived in Butaw amid the rage of the youths who were throwing rocks. The Deputy Minister was injured following which all personnel, including the ministerial delegation either managed to escape or were later rescued. Those under attack included one GVL manager who was held hostage by the gang but was safeguarded by GVL workers,” Mr. Magee said.
The protest was owing to the slow progress of development in Butaw, Mr. Magee believes.
“We understand that this situation stemmed from the frustration of local youths over the lack of progress in creating more jobs. Furthermore the Butaw youths’ letter said they wanted to discuss an ongoing boundary dispute between Butaw and Murrysville, which was hindering Butaw citizens from determining their land for oil palm expansion. GVL’s policy is not to enter into disputed areas,” Mr. Magee said.
“We believe that GVL has lived up to its commitments. We are more than willing to discuss issues and matters. We are, however, very strongly opposed to the use of intimidation tactics or violence and threats to resolve issues,” said Magee.
A press statement signed by GVL’s Communications Officer Stephen S. Binda, said that GVL is deeply concerned about the actions of a few individuals under the banner of the Butaw Youth Association, who chose to disregard the law and public safety and resorted to mob violence, vandalism and looting.
“GVL is currently working along with local authorities, the LNP and UNMIL to assess the situation and to determine the factions,” the press release said.
Besides the Butaw concession areas which are in ‘force majeure,’ other areas are in full operation.
It may be recalled that President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf on Wednesday, condemned the actions of the Butaw Youth, saying: “As a government, we cannot allow a few people to undermine the interest of this country; to run investors away and to make sure that we do not attract what we need to achieve our development goals.”
The President warned that her government would respond to the incident “in a very effective way.”
She indicated that her government cannot continue to go out and attract investments to create jobs only for others to engage in violence that scares away investors.