Liberia: Two Shot, Village Burnt in River Cess Riot over Mineral-rich Forestland
RIVER CESS – Two men have been injured and a village destroyed in a riot over potentially mineral-rich forestland over the weekend in River Cess County, local authorities said.
Report by James Harding Giahyue, with New Narratives
River Cess residents, Eric Glanyon and Daniel Jacob, sustained gunshot wounds and are “being treated in the government hospital in Buchanan,” about 34 miles away in Grand Bassa County, according to Philip Bahn, the nurse who administered treatment to the victims in the Neezuin Community Clinic in the Central River Cess District. Glanyon sustained injuries to the chest and neck, and Jacob to his chest and right elbow, Bahn added. “They had bullets in their bodies, so I had to send them to Buchanan.”
Rioters burned nearly every hut in Jay Village, the epicenter of the brawl. Townspeople in the small mining settlement, adjacent to the disputed forest, fled in terror, police said. Flames can be seen on several mud huts in a video released by the police.
Daniel Jay Karr, 45, the man who established Jay Village, has been arrested over the shooting. Two other men—Amos Jettee and Garmonyou Togo, both 36—have been arrested for illegal possession of firearms, River Cess Police Commander Fasu Sheriff told FrontPage Africa. More arrests could be made in the coming days, he added.
“Investigation is ongoing. More names are coming out,” Sheriff said in a mobile phone interview. “The situation within the affected area is under control. Calm has been restored.”
Bismark Karbiah, the superintendent of the county, is, however, calling on the Liberian National Police (LNP) to deploy more men to the south-central county, to put an end to a growing wave of mine-related violence. “We are calling on the police inspector general to bring more manpower into the county because it is a mining terrain,” he said. “You have a lot of disgruntled people [here] moving with single-barrel pistols, so we need manpower to conduct search [for more suspects] in the county.”
Illegal mining is widespread in River Cess. For instance, the entire Timbo District—where the mining village burned in the riot is located—has zero licenses, records of the Ministry of Mines and Energy show (as of November 23). The Central River Cess District has only two licenses. Mining authorities and the police—who have faced logistical constraints and insufficient manpower for years—struggle to prevent the practice. The vast, forest canopy and remote villages provide hideouts for illegal miners.
How it happened
The riot broke out early on Friday, just before a ceremony to mark the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Tobo Clan in the Timbo District and a group of Chinese investors. The deal was for the unidentified company to carry out gold mining, plank processing and agricultural activities in the extensive forest in that area, according to Abraham Barkay, the commissioner of Central River Cess District. However, townsmen from Doewein Clan in Barkay’s district stormed the area in resistance to the deal.
“They marched to stop the signing of the social agreement,” Barkay told FrontPage Africa at a land rights event in Buchanan. “I am pleading with the central government to do something, especially about this boundary harmonization.”
The early-morning melee is the latest in a four-year boundary dispute between Doewein and Tobo clans over the forested island surrounded by the Cestos and Doe rivers. Doewein argues it is closer to the forest. Tobo refutes that claim, saying the humid woodland is on its side of the Doewein River that divides them.
Earlier this month, the 14th Judicial Circuit Court in Cestos held a conference with the rival clans. The court forwarded the case to the Liberia Land Authority (LLA), the government office that oversees land matters. The LLA has scheduled a visit to the troubled region this week, according to Adams Manobah, its chairman.
This story was collaboration with New Narratives as part of the Excellence in Extractives Reporting Project. German Development Cooperation provided funding. The Funder had no say in the story’s content.