Emeute à Voinjama après le meurtre d’une jeune fille – mars 2010

A Girl’s Murder Sparks Riots


27 03 2010

by Ruthie Ackerman

When the body of a young girl was found outside a mosque in Liberia, vigilante justice took over and fanned the flames of religious hatred.

Fourteen-year old Korpo Kamara has become a symbol of everything that is wrong in West African nation of Liberia.

The young girl was reported missing by her parents last month after she didn’t come home from picking cassava. She was found dead the next day near a mosque in the town of Konia, 55 miles from Voinjama, capital of Lofa County, one of the hardest-hit areas during Liberia’s 14-year civil war.

In a country with a strong justice system, the police would have acted swiftly to apprehend any suspects in the girl’s murder and courts would be called upon to deliver a verdict.

Given the crisis of confidence in the government’s ability to maintain law and order in Liberia, concerns are mounting that the 2011 elections will not go as smoothly as hoped.

But in Liberia, as in many post-conflict nations, the justice system has failed the people. While much money has been poured into security-sector reform, very little has been focused on reforming the judicial sector. A lack of qualified personnel, and unpaid salaries for judges, prosecutors, and court staff, hampers the judicial process. To make matters worse, the police are poorly equipped, questionably staffed, and certainly ill-prepared to deal with the lack of rule of law. One insidious result is that a majority of Liberians distrust the justice system, which leads to a complete breakdown of law and order.

That is why, when the young girl of our story was found dead, vigilante justice took over. Witnesses said the girl’s parents became angry when the owners of the mosque claimed to know nothing about the incident. In a country where citizens are confident that justice will be done, communities don’t need to take the law into their own hands. Instead, outrage over Kamara’s death sparked riots between the Lormas, who are mostly Christian (Kamara was Lorma), and the Mandingos, who are mostly Muslim. The towns of Voinjama and Konia have felt the brunt of the violence, which left four dead, hundreds displaced, and houses, churches, and mosques burnt. During the chaos, more than six dozen inmates escaped from the local prison, although some were re-arrested.

Reports said U.N. peacekeepers arrived, but Christian residents felt that because the peacekeepers were Pakistani—Muslim—they were biased. Many national and international media outlets jumped to the conclusion that the violence was religious or ethnically based. Even the chief of the U.N. Mission in Liberia, Ellen Magrethe Løj, said at her weekly news briefing that it had “ethnic undertones. » Meanwhile, Løj also said that cellphones helped spur the violence by making it easier to spread rumors. “Let me say that I wish there were not many cell hones in this country, because it is the unfounded rumors that were circulated that caused the violence,” she pointed out, according to a story in The Daily Observer. In a press release put out by the executive mansion, the president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, expressed her “grave concern and regret” about the violence in Konia and Voinjama, which she emphasized was not a “religious conflict.” Sirleaf did not specify the root of the conflict though.

Nevertheless, the knee-jerk reaction is to pass the violence in Lofa County off as ethnic or religiously based, or spurred by technology, without taking into consideration the anger many feel over the ineffective justice system which lets many criminals, including some in the government, walk free. In a petition from residents of the Zorzor District, which includes the town of Konia, where Kamara lived, residents expressed concern over the murder of three children in the district, which have remained unresolved. “Our people live in constant fear as the culprits of these crimes roam about in our District with impunity,” the Zorzor residents said in their statement.

It is important to remember that Lofa County was one of the hardest hit during the war and many tensions in the area still exist. Land disputes are common as displaced Liberians return home to find others now living on their land. So, what on the surface may look like religious or ethnic violence may in fact be caused by disputes over land and brewing anger over a lack of justice.

In fact, the U.S. State Department recently released its 2009/2010 human-rights report on Liberia, highlighting the fact that the judicial system is ineffective and corrupt and that corruption and impunity is rampant in all levels of government. The report raised the issue of politically motivated killings, like one that took place on June 29 of last year in which Senator Sumo Kupee from Lofa County was accused of the ritualistic killing of a boy in Bong County. The report said the ministry of justice did not prosecute the senator because of lack of evidence.

The report went on to point out that mob violence and land disputes still exist in Liberia and have resulted in deaths.

Liberia, which has received millions of dollars in aid money since its civil war ended six years ago, and whose president, Sirleaf, is an international darling and symbol of democracy, should be held up as an example of just how difficult nation-building and peacekeeping actually are.

One minute a country is on the road to recovery and the next minute it looks like it could slide back into war. But what seems like a case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is actually low-grade anger that has been simmering for years and exploded after the death of Kamara.

The challenge for Sirleaf since she took office in 2006 has been to gain the trust and maintain the confidence of the Liberian people, despite the tattered justice system and the fact that many in government, including former warlords, want to see her fail.

The recent violence is just what Sirleaf’s opponents need to cast a shadow on her tenure. Charles Brumskine, the leader of the Liberty Party, who ran against her in the 2005 elections, never misses an opportunity to criticize her. He recently published a piece in The Liberian Journal claiming that outbreaks of violence five years after Sirleaf took office “confirms that not much has been done about reconciling our people….”

He also reported that a member of the Police Special Unit was burnt to death, as a result of mob violence. The violence was in retaliation for the killing of an unarmed civilian by the officer on January 16, when an emergency response unit wounded 17 unarmed university students and other young people without any punishment from the president or the government, Brumskine said. “While the Liberty Party condones neither mob violence nor vigilante justice, the obvious conclusion is that the people are once again beginning to take the law in their own hands, seeking to protect themselves against security units created by the executive branch of government.” Separately, Senator Sumo Kupee, who was accused of the murder of a young boy but not prosecuted because of a “lack of evidence,” told the Senate Plenary that Liberia is a “time bomb” waiting to explode.

Ruthie Ackerman is a senior fellow at the World Policy Insitute and the founder of Ceasefire Liberia, a hyperlocal blog project that focuses on Liberia and the diaspora.

More danger seems to be on the horizon after Liberia’s Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization revealed that it is traveling to neighboring Guinea to search for the perpetrators of the violence in Lofa County. Guinea borders Liberia to the north and is just a few kilometers away from the capital of Voinjama. Looking to “outsiders” or “foreigners” as the culprits of violence is nothing new in the region. When violence broke out in Guinea last year, the government pointed the finger at Liberia. The problem is that by making foreigners the scapegoat of the violence, anger toward anyone deemed an outsider continues to brew. This is particularly troubling for Mandingos, who, although Liberian, are considered by many to be foreigners.

Given the crisis of confidence in the government’s ability to maintain law and order in Liberia, concerns are mounting that the 2011 elections will not go as smoothly as hoped. Sirleaf’s opponents, including Brumskine, were already enraged after the “Iron Lady” announced in January that she would seek a second term—after saying she wouldn’t run again during her campaign in 2005.

While the fragile Liberia is beginning to show cracks, Sirleaf is trying to stay focused on the task ahead. In her press release after the violence in Lofa County, she reassured Liberians that “an investigation into the incident will be undertaken, while those identified as the perpetrators will be arrested and prosecuted in keeping with law.”

Despite the government’s shaky track record of prosecuting crimes, I believe Sirleaf is serious about cracking down on violence and impunity, which has run rampant in Liberia. But the Liberian people must believe it. Their futures and the future of Sirleaf’s presidential campaign depend on it.

Ruthie Ackerman is a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute and the founder of Ceasefire Liberia, a hyperlocal blog project that focuses on Liberia and the diaspora.

Curfew imposed in N Liberian city after riot


March 02 2010]

The Liberian National Police (LNP) has announced the imposition of a curfew in the northern Liberian city of Voinjama, after clashes broke out between Christians and Muslims over the weekend.

Marc Amblar, director of the LNP, said the curfew will run from 6:00 p.m. local time to 8:00 a.m. local time and will remain enforced until further notice.

Amblar told reporters on Sunday that he had given strict instructions to riot police dispatched to the area to restore calm while dealing harshly with anyone in violation of law or curfew.

According to him, four people were killed and 21 others severely injured in Friday’s violence. Several rioters have been rounded up and taken in police custody.

The Liberian police chief said his men have seized five single- barrels guns and seven machetes.

Meanwhile, Galakpai Kortimai, superintendent of the troubled Lofa County, told Xinhua on Sunday that calm returned to the area following the violence.

Kortimai said shops and stores have once again opened their doors to customers and commercial activities were returning to normal.

He claimed that local officials embarked on a massive campaign urging residents not to panic, but to return to their homes as the situation was brought under control.

Violence flares in the northern Liberian town, which change hands several times among warring factions after the body of a girl was discovered in the area.

The death of the deceased was blamed on some Muslims, who were accused by some local residents of masterminding the alleged act for ritual purposes to open a newly constructed mosque.

Four Killed In Voinjama Violence


March 1, 201

Churches, Mosques Set Ablaze, Hundreds Displaced

Edwin M. Fayia, III

MONROVIA – At least four persons were reportedly killed and several others injured over the weekend during a riot in Voinjama, Lofa County.

Muslims and Christians clashed after an 11th grade student, who had gone missing, was found dead near a mosque in the town of Konia.

The incident occurred barely a week after the county’s youth marched through the principal streets of Voinjama in demand of a community college.

Korpo Kamara, who, prior to her death was a student of a school being operated by the Lutheran Church of Liberia in the town of Konia, went missing on Tuesday, February 23.

Eyewitnesses said after school, the 14-year-old went to harvest some cassava leaves for her parents for their dinner on the outskirts of Konia but did not return home.

That development, reportedly prompted a mass search for the 11th grade student, who was later found dead near a mosque in the town of Konia, located in Zorzor District, Lofa County.

Following the discovery, eyewitnesses said, when the people who were near the mosque were asked about the death of the teenage girl, they denied having any knowledge about the incident.

This response, witnesses further said, generated claims and counter-claims over the death of the child and finally led to confrontations.

Those who were near the mosque were said to be Muslims, while those who were asking about the cause of Korpo’s death were believed to be Christians.

Eyewitnesses narrated that it was during the confrontations that a member of the Muslim group, name not given, made a telephone call to the Muslim community in Voinjama and reported that the mosque in Konia had been set ablaze by the Christian community.

Following the telephone conversation about the confusion in Konia Town, another eyewitness in Voinjama said, some members of the Muslim Community in Voinjama, in their reaction, mobilized other Muslims who launched an attack on churches and schools believed to be owned by Christians in Voinjama.

The attackers, eyewitnesses said, vandalized, looted and destroyed churches, private homes as well as vehicles and other valuables which were said to be owned by Christians.

Voinjama Multilateral High School (VMHS) was also looted of computers and other materials.

The Catholic Church situated on the Macenta Road was set on fire, and the Voinjama Free Pentecostal Church massively looted.

At the moment, eyewitnesses said, Voinjama has been deserted owing to the fluid situation between Christians and Muslims.

The Liberian Government has imposed a dawn-to-dusk curfew in Voinjama, which has at least seven administrative districts. A deployment of personnel of the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) of the Liberia National Police (LNP) backed by peacekeepers of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) is also in place in the city.

UNMIL troops in military armor tanks are patrolling the streets of Voinjama and its environs to restore law and order. Residents, businesses and UN agencies, among others, are being advised to go about their normal activities, as the security situation has been brought under control.

Other eyewitnesses, however, said they heard sporadic gun fire from the direction of the Mandingo Quarter in Voinjama during Friday’s violent outbreak.

They also told the Daily Observer over the weekend that during the confrontation between members of the Muslim and Christian communities, the United Nations peacekeepers of the Pakistani contingent deployed huge war tanks around the two mosques in the city and protected them from looters, leaving the churches and other Christian-owned establishments to be vandalized.

This information has not been independently confirmed by the Daily Observer.

The situation on Friday became so grave that the Liberian Government dispatched a crack team of the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) to restore sanity to the now deserted city of Voinjama.

Despite the presence of the ERU contingent on the ground in Voinjama City, eyewitnesses said hundreds of displaced residents and citizens are currently at the Kolahun/Voinjama Highway, where they have been without food and shelter since last week Friday.

There are also reports that the medical conditions of the displaced, including women and children, ‘are going from bad to worse on the highway’.

Other displaced citizens and residents at the outskirts of Voinjama City in several telephone conversations with the Daily Observer intimated that they wanted to return to their looted and vandalized homes, but were afraid to do so for security reasons.

0Copyright Liberian Observer – All Rights Reserved. This article cannot be re-published without the expressed, written consent of the Liberian Observer. Please contact us for more information or to request publishing permission.

~ par Alain Bertho sur 27 mars 2010.

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