Liberia: River Gee Citizens Reject Internal Affairs Ministry-guided Land Dispute Resolution
Monrovia – A group of citizens hailing from River Gee County have rejected the latest decision reached by Internal Affairs Minister Varney Sirleaf in a bid to resolve a long standing land dispute between residents of Chedepo and Potupo Districts within the county.
Report by Gerald C. Koinyeneh, [email protected]
The dispute started in the 1960s between the towns of Geeken in Chedepo District and Gbarquiah in Potupo District. Since then, there have been several attempts to resolve the problem but to no avail.
Previous interventions led to the setting up of a buffer zone. But it has also contributed to recent clashes as both towns began farming in the area.
At head of a high power delegation in early late June and early July this year to River Gee County, Minister Sirleaf led a mediation exercises that resulted to the survey of the disputed land and its division into half.
A resolution was signed by both parties accepting the demarcation and witnessed by civil society actors, religious community, the United Nations, Gender Coordinator, the County Administration and Minister Sirleaf.
However, the Chedepo Geeken Development Association based in Monrovia has rejected the new demarcation on grounds that it took away portion of the land belonging to the people of Geeken.
Addressing a press conference in Clara Town, Bushrod Island recently, the group through its acting president, Gabriel Teh Nyantorh said the decision to ignore the old boundary and set up a new one was “strange and a recipe for chaos.”
“We strongly warn that anyone who attempts to take the land that belongs to Chedepo citizens will surely have us to contend with. We will use the last drop of our blood to maintain our land,” the citizens vowed.
Speaking further the said: “We want to make it emphatically and categorically clear that the decision made by Minister Varney Sirleaf to disregard the original boundary called klenegbae that was established in 1965 between Chedepo Geeken and Potupo Gbaquiah by strangely establishing his own boundary on July 1, 2020 between the two towns to protect the interest of some key government officials is disastrous, chaotic and lays the basis for tribal conflict and unrest.”
However, a Spokesperson of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Emmanuel Wheinyue said the resolution ending the land conflict was agreed upon and signed by citizens of both districts.
“The resolution was plain, cleared and everybody celebrated it. And since then we have been hearing good news from there. We are just surprised to hear that somebody from Monrovia say they are Geeken people.”
According to the aggrieved citizens, the land dispute between the two towns started in 1957 and in 1965, residents of both sides headed by their respective Paramount chiefs and traditional leaders resolved the conflict through the establishment of the Klenegbae boundary.
They said that since 1965, residents of both towns have been living in peace and harmony until 2019 when some citizens of Potupo Gbarquiah crossed the boundary and began farming on Geeken’s land.
“We want to make it emphatically and categorically clear that the decision made by Minister Varney Sirleaf to disregard the original boundary called klenegbae that was established in 1965 between Chedepo Geeken and Potupo Gbaquiah by strangely establishing his own boundary on July 1, 2020 between the two towns to protect the interest of some key government officials is disastrous, chaotic and lays the basis for tribal conflict and unrest.”– Citizens of Rivergee County
Upon noticing the ‘strange behavior,’ the citizens said they filed series of complaints to River County Superintendent Philip Q. Nyenuoh but he collected L$30,000 from both towns and left the conflict unresolved.
Then on May 30, they wrote a communication to Minister Sirleaf and complained the behavior of Superintendent Nyenuoh but the Minister “thrashed the complaint because of reasons better known to himself.”
They alleged that the latest land conflict in 2019 was masterminded by Ms. Finda Nora Bundoo, Chief of Protocol of the Executive Mansion who claimed to be citizens of Putopo Gbaquiah and promised to support Gbaquiah in anything they do.
“We realized that some key government officials who are instigating this conflict are doing so because a certain portion of the land called Piteatogbea that falls on the side of Chedepo Geeken contains natural resources that they want to extract.”
The citizens alleged that with pressure from House Speaker Bhofal chambers, Minister Sirleaf travelled to River Gee and instead of going to the disputed land, he stayed in Fish Town, the county’s capital and made the citizens to sign the resolution under duress.
They alleged that the salary of their Paramount Chief, Charles Warjolo was withheld by Superintendent Nyenuoh because of his refusal to accept the decision, and with Minister Sirleaf’s request, Warjolo was made to sign the resolution.
Sirleaf’s resolution, according to them divided the portion of the disputed land into two but took away all of their crops.
But Wheinyue also rubbished the group’s claim that some key government officials were behind the decision, adding that the decision to divide the land reserved over the years as buffer zone came from the locals themselves.
He said the threat to withhold Superintendent Worjolo’s salary was a technique used by the County’s Superintendent to make him form part of the conflict resolution process since he has refused on previous occasion to attend any invitation geared toward settling the dispute.
Wheinyue said it was indicated in the resolution that if any party’s cash crops or crops with longer life span fall on the other side of the boundary in the wake of the new demarcation, the party will still have the right to own the crops. However, if it is a rice farm or crops with short life span, the resolution calls for the owner to harvest and leave the land.
“The Minister went on the ground and consulted. We went to the village and the bush and all of the areas were identified. We discovered that the buffer zone set up in 1965 was the area of contention and the land authority conducted the survey through the use of GPA and found the area was a little over 4,000 feet. And both parties agreed.”
“But the people in Monrovia just want to put politic in everything. The allegation that there are certain people in government from Geeken whose interest the Minister want to protect is false and even laughable.”
However, the chief negotiator and spokesperson of Geeken during the conflict resolution, Romeo Martins said although the elders agreed to sign unto the resolution, residents of both towns are still not satisfied and there are signs of potential conflict.
Martin told FrontPage Africa on the line from River Gee that the women group and the youth of Geeken are calling for the 1965 agreement to be upheld.
He called for a round table discussion between the two parties as a way forward to ending the long standing dispute.
“When we came [back from the signing the resolution], the Geeken Concerned Women group and the Youth said that all what we did there was absolutely against their will. They said that they are not stopping the Minister to come and make peace, but the only thing that they want is the decision reached in 1965 to hold,” said Martins, who was also appointed as the Peace Building Officer of Geeken.
“I have been managing after the Minister appointed me as peace building officer. And I think best way is to sit at the round table and better make decision for ourselves.”