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23 charged after GVL riot

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GVL official workers500x300Police authorities in Monrovia say 23 rioters, including two females have been charged after last week’s violence at Golden Veroleum Liberia, an oil palm plantation in Sinoe County, southeast Liberia.

Police say 18 of those charged have been sent to court in the county, while a man-hunt has been launched for the remaining five suspects.

The charges include criminal mischief to commit murder, rioting, armed robbery and aggravated assault, among others in connection to the recent mayhem at the Golden Veroleum Liberia’s facilities specifically in Butaw, Sinoe County.

Police Spokesman Sam Collins told The NewDawn on Monday that five more suspects in connection to these crimes, including the rioting Butaw Youth leader Thierry Pahyonoh, are still at large, and the police have launched a manhunt.

On 26 May, the rioters under the banner Butaw Youth Association or BYA reportedly attacked and injured several GVL employees after management allegedly refused to allow them meet with a visiting senior vice president of the company.
Liberia’s Deputy Internal Affairs Minister, Varney Sirleaf, reportedly sustained injury during the Butaw incident.

The Butaw youth had insisted to meet with the visiting GVL official through a letter to management, with apparent fears that they might not get a redress to their concerns of alleged slow pace of development in their community, if the vice president left.

The oil palm company had suggested meeting with the youth at another date because its management was engaged with the visiting official.

But the disagreement between GVL and the youth group escalated to the point where some 25 members of the BYA allegedly blocked the entrance to the company’s farm site, preventing workers from entering.

GVL authorities announced last week that two employees were hospitalized after being injured by the rioters, who allegedly broke into housing units, looted and vandalized the facilities.

The company last week said it could not state the value of the losses incurred as a result of the incident, saying it had to do assessment.

But in a latest update on the situation, Head of Corporation Communication Virgil Magee, said management has begun assessing damages at the Butaw farm site.

“We remain committed to the local community and are working – the Sinoe and Grand Kru Legislative Caucuses, the Liberian National Police, and other authorities. Our monthly payroll for employees will be conducted as normal”, Magee said.

He said management has not been officially offered the use of the Sinoe County Development Fund (CDF), and has no intention to use the CDF to repair damages occurred as a result of the riot.

“If we are asked to use the CDF for damage repair, we would utilize the funds together with the citizens for urgent county purposes, such as school, clinic and road building and repair. We will not use the CDF for any damage repair”, Magee stressed.

He told reporters last week that the rioters looted the company’s rice warehouse, among others.

The GVL Head of Corporation Communication however assured that the company has no plan to leave Liberia due to the incident, but added that many things would be evaluated.

In reaction to the youth’s concern of slow development in Butaw, Magee claimed a plantation on 2500 hectares of land in Butaw has been developed, with 900 citizens employed from Butaw.

The Liberian government has since condemned the act of the young people, warning that it will not allow few people to scare away investors.

Reacting to the arrest of its members, the Butaw Youth Progressive Association said the action by the government through the Liberia National Police is a conspiracy and gross violation of basic rights of citizens Butaw District.
Speaking to this paper via mobile phone Monday, the spokesman for the group Geapley Seedey Monboe, said because of greener pastures some officials of the county seek from GVL, the company has fearlessly violated the rights of the citizens with impunity.
Seedey said if only government officials stood for what is right in the country; the violence would have been avoided.
According to him, since the riot, no political party or public individuals have taken up time to investigate and find out whose wrong, saying, “We were told that there will be a meeting between civil society group, youth of Butaw, and officials of government to find the way forward, but if the police did not tear gas the youth, there wouldn’t have been any form of violation in Sinoe; they are responsible for what happened”.  By Winston W. Parley & Lewis Tweh – Edited by Jonathan Browne

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