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Gbarnga Violence Under Probe

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Following last Thursday’s street clashes in Gbarnga, Bong County between officers of the Police Support Unit (PSU) and local petrol dealers, which disrupted normal businesses in some parts of the city, the Acting Inspector General of the Liberia National Police Chris Massaquoi, has constituted a committee to probe the incident.

The investigative panel is headed by Bong County Attorney Cornelius Wennah. Other members of the panel have been drawn from civil society organizations in Bong, the office of the Superintendent, the police and prominent citizens of the county.

Speaking to journalists following several hours of discussion with the citizens, including the leadership of the gas dealers in Gbarnga, Inspector Massaquoi emphasized that the establishment of investigative panel was crucial in resolving the March 1, 2012 saga to maintaining peace.

Massaquoi said he would not condone any act of police brutality against peaceful citizens, assuring that all necessary means would be employed to ensure proper coordination, collaboration and cooperation between the police and the citizens.

The Police Chief told the citizens he was very interested in the outcome of the investigation, and vowed to weed out those PSU officers, who will perform outside of professional conduct, aimed at bringing the force to public disrepute.

Massaquoi’s intervention followed last Thursday’s clash between PSU officers and petrol dealers at the Gbarnga Iron Gate, resulting to the alleged flogging of some dealers by the police, leaving several of them wounded.

In retaliation, some angry rioters reportedly threw stones at the PSU officers when they decided using tears gas to dislodge the gas dealers from their depot, ensuing a street battle that lasted for several hours.

According to our correspondent, the standoff ensued when the PSU officers attempted confiscating huge quantity of fuel from the petroleum dealers on allegation that it was a stolen fuel reportedly sold to them by some UNMIL personnel. But the fuel dealers resisted the police, leaving the force to reportedly apply excessive force quelling the stone- throwing crowd.

An eyewitness told the New Dawn in Gbarnga that during the incident, some PSU officers reportedly ransacked private homes extorted money from occupants under the guise of going in pursuit of stone-throwing rioters.

A businesswoman identified as Kebbeh Sumo, claimed the police burst into to her room and forcibly took away 8,000 Liberian Dollars on grounds that she was harboring some of the rioters.

At least five persons, including a female reportedly sustained injuries and were rushed to the Phebe Hospital in Suakoko, outside Gbarnga for medication, while others were arrested and later released based on the intervention of Bong County Development Superintendent Anthony Sheriff.

Prior to last Thursday’s incident, tension had built up between the petro dealers and the PSU officers on allegation that the police previously took away three drums of fuel from them and did not pay, despite persistent effort by the leadership of the petroleum dealers association to have the police settle their indebtedness.

Meanwhile, the probe committee under the leadership of County Attorney Wennah is expected to come up with findings shortly perhaps with recommendations that could improve the poor police-civilian relationship, particularly in Gbarnga.

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