Addressing a news conference today at the head office of Golden Veroleum on 17th street, Monrovia, the Head of Corporate Communications, Virgil Magee in a prepared statement said, during the incident May 26, 2015, against GVL employees and property two employees received injuries leading to hospitalization, several others were treated locally, employee housing was broken into, vandalized and their private property stolen. Company rice warehouse, storing rice that is part of May wages, was forced open and looted. Currently LNP has declared the site a crime scene and GVL considers the Butaw farm to be in a Force Majeure situation due to employee security and the damage.
“We are very deeply concerned by the actions of a few individuals acting under the banner of the Butaw Youth Association, who have chosen to disregard the law and public safety and resorted to mob violence, vandalism and looting,” said Stephen Binda, GVL Spokesman. “We understand that Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs for Administration, Varney Sirleaf, who came to Butaw to facilitate discussions was also injured.”
According to Binda “GVL is currently working along with local authorities, the Liberian National Police and UNMIL to assess the situation and to determine the facts. In the coming days a more thorough investigation will be conducted.”
Operations are in a force majeure situation under current conditions. “However we will aim to operate our school and to provide medical care services to local citizens and our staff as soon as possible,” said Binda. Currently our clinic nursing staffs have attended the move of injured to hospital in Monrovia.
On Sunday May 24, GVL received a letter from the BYA requesting immediate meeting with management. GVL was holding a management meeting on the Butaw site over the weekend and planned to undertake field visits for the remainder of the week. Company management replied saying that due to the short notice the meeting should be scheduled for later in the week.
On morning of Tuesday May 26 approximately 20-25 members of the BYA blocked the entrance to the GVL Butaw farm site, preventing workers from entering. The company informed the Deputy Minister for Internal Affairs, the Honorable Varney Sirleaf, who has provided mediation in the past and is well respected by the local community. The Minister arranged a delegation from the Government of Liberia including himself. Minister of Gender and Acting President, Hon. Julia Duncan Cassell, on visit to Sinoe, also joined in. The delegation arrived in Butaw at about 10 am.
Due to concern about escalating tension, an UNMIL contingent from Greenville was also called to observe. They were on site when the Ministerial delegation arrived.
The Deputy Minister was reported on national radio on the evening of May 26 as saying that he was trying to hold talks when violence erupted. The BYA broke through the gate and attacked. The Minister was injured by a rock hit at his back. During evacuation, rocks were thrown at vehicles. The BYA group attacked the staff quarters. Considerable damage has been done, with rooms looted and both company and personal property damaged, destroyed and stolen. This includes buildings, IT equipment, vehicles and other materials.
Another contingent of UNMIL was dispatched from Monrovia and helped to restore order.
All personnel, including the Ministerial delegation, ultimately either managed to escape at the time or were later rescued, including one GVL manager, who was held captive by a gang until safeguarded by GVL workers. Two employees were injured seriously to require medevac to Monrovia, one a manager and other a company driver. Several local Butaw GVL staff were reported to have been threatened. They and their families have been evacuated to safety.
“We understand that this situation stems from the frustration of local youth for lack of progress to create more jobs. The BYA letter to GVL wanted to discuss an ongoing boundary dispute between Butaw and Murrysville, which has stalled the Butaw citizens from determining their lands for oil palm expansion. GVL policy is to not enter into disputed areas.”
The Butaw youth letter also mentioned the TFT report, which has been basis of resolution between GVL and Butaw citizens.
“We believe that GVL has lived up to the report and our commitments. We are more than willing to discuss issues and matters, we are however very strongly opposed to the use of intimidation tactics or violence and threats to resolve issues.”
Currently operations in Butaw remain in a force majeure situation. Otherwise GVL expects to provide workers payroll as normal but will need to inspect the looted rice warehouse before rice provision can be ensured.
“We call for a clear way forward which incorporates not only GVL’s and our employees needs for safety, sustainability and economic realities, but particularly also those of local communities and citizens with whom we work”, says Binda.