LIBERIA: U. S. Expresses Displeasure Over Army Role In Ebola Response

Recent role played by the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) in the quarantining of the residents of Monrovia’s largest slum community, West Point which led to the death of a sixteen years old boy has attracted the attention of the United States government suggesting that the U.S. government condemned such action on the part of the Liberian armed forces.

Addressing a news conference held in Monrovia Tuesday, the United States Ambassador to Liberia Deborah R. Malac noted, “We would like to see the AFL not been involved in a law enforcement role. They have an appropriate role, in this Ebola response as does the LNP, BIN and other security agencies because there is a security aspect in other cases of this response.

But the AFL was intended to be an external defense force to external threats. We hope that they will start to see more activity on the part of the LNP and that they will continue to lead on the security aspect of this Ebola response. We look forward to seeing the results of the investigation.”

Ambassador Malac’s statement has been welcomed by rights groups in the country who have been opting for the resignation of Liberia’s Defense Minister, Brownie Samukai for his men (Soldiers) role in the untimely death of young Shaki Kamara.

For its part, the Food and Agriculture Organization on Monday slammed the idea of quarantine West Point by the Liberian Government, saying that quarantine zones and restrictions on movement imposed to help contain the Ebola disease have severely hampered the transport and sale of food.

West Point took a violent turn recently after the government declared the area a quarantine zone. Soldiers opened fire and used tear gas on crowds as they attempted to evacuate the township commissioner and her family. The incident was preceded by another incident after some residents; including club-wielding youths stormed an Ebola isolation center and looted the facility. At least four residents were injured in the clashes as government shut off the area in new security measures aimed at containing the deadly Ebola virus.

Defense Minister Brownie Samukai initially suggested that the injury to Shaki was caused by a barbed wire. "The wound is a superficial wound, a wound in which the individual was jumping or was running or through the stampede wounded himself," said Samukai.

"The intention was not to harm anyone but just to keep the crowd away, instead of the crowd stoning and trying to hurt. Understand that people are beating up health workers and they have attacked a police vehicle and attacked security personnel. We cannot sit there, that is why we issued the warning shots to keep them away."

The minister said there was no order issued to any soldier to shoot ammunitions at the crowd: "Once again, I want to make it very clear, that the Armed Forces of Liberia have not been issued any orders to shoot to kill anybody out there at this point in time," said Defense Minister Brownie Samukai immediately following the riots on Wednesday.

 "Those soldiers are under orders from this point; no decision on the use of those weapons against any person can be issued without any clear instructions from the commander in chief to the minister of defense and through the chain of command of the Armed forces of Liberia."

The minister later shifted his position, acknowledging to FrontPageAfrica that, upon further review of photographs and videos from the scene of the shooting, that left Shaki dead, it was now clear that both lethal and non-lethal weapons were used in the riots.

"I can tell you that after careful review of all of the photographs and videos from the West Point riots last week, it has been established that both lethal and non-lethal weapons were used in the shootings," Minister Samukai said as he confirmed that a board of inquiry will now be set up to determine what took place last week. It is on the basis of the new findings and development that the government has decided to set up a board of inquiry," Samukai said.

The shooting has already drawn concern from the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) whose head, Ms. Karen Landgren, told a news conference recently that President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf had vowed that security force would not use such deadly force again. She said the deadly Ebola outbreak is having negative repercussions for Liberia.

"We've seen the potential for security to deteriorate, even in the context of health efforts. The government is committed to applying the right measures together with communities, especially Ebola affected communities who need support, who need understanding and who need basic services," said Ms. Landgren.

 "And UNMIL welcomes the President's statement earlier today that under no circumstances would lethal force be used again. This epidemic is unprecedented, not only for Liberia but for the world. It's extraordinary. Liberia's many partners are determined to find an extraordinary response to meet these needs."

Shaki was buried last week, hours after his mother, Eva Nah, called on the government to allow her to view the dead body of her son. She told FrontPageAfrica that that she had sent her son to buy tea for early morning breakfast only to hear later that he was shot by security officers. "They fired my son, I just sent the boy to buy tea that morning and people telling me they fired my son, they don't want me to see his body, I feel so bad", Eva told FPA.

A second boy, identified as Benny-Boy also reportedly sustained a bullet hole in the stomach during the riots and was treated at the S.D Cooper Clinic in Monrovia after family sources said bullet was removed from his stomach on Friday but the government maintains that it did not order state security forces to shoot.

The outbreak has killed at least 1,550 of the 3,000 people in four countries since March – the worst Ebola outbreak in history. Liberia has suffered the bulk of the casualties with some 885 deaths reported so far and the virus has not spread to Senegal which has become the fifth African country to confirm a case of the virus, after a 21 year-old Guinean student slipped out of a clinic in his homeland and arrived in Dakar.

Nigeria, where Liberian-American Patrick Sawyer took the virus to confirm Monday that a man suspected to have had the virus from an encounter with Sawyer, died in Port Harcourt, bringing the total confirmed infections to 17 in Nigeria.

Several international stakeholders have said the crisis could get worse before it gets better. World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said this week that people are dying needlessly because of the world's "disastrously inadequate response" to the outbreak.

Ambassador Malac’s statement Tuesday coincided with a statement from U.S. President Barack Obama Tuesday in which the American leader expressed continued support for the countries stricken by the virus. “On behalf of the American people, I want you to know that our prayers are with those of you who have lost loved ones during this terrible outbreak of Ebola. Along with our partners around the world, the United States is working with your governments to help stop this disease. And the first step in this fight is knowing the facts,” Obama said.

The U.S. President said the most common way one can get Ebola is by touching the body fluids of someone who's sick or has died from it—like their sweat, saliva or blood—or through a contaminated item, like a needle.

“That's why the disease is continuing to spread where patients are being cared for at home or during burials when families and friends lay their loved one to rest. That's why health care workers wear protection like gloves and masks. It's why, if you feel sick with a high fever, you should get help right away—because with prompt treatment in a medical center, nearly half of patients can recover. And it's why, when burying someone who died from this disease, it's important to not directly touch their body; you can respect your traditions and honor your loved ones without risking the lives of the living.”

Healthcare workers have borne the brunt of the crisis with more than 140 dead so far. In Liberia on Monday, nurses at the largest hospital, the John F. Kennedy Medical Center went on strike, refusing to return to work until they were issued with protective equipment and demanding their August salary and other benefits.

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