LIBERIA: Frontline Defender Solomon Gaye Killed and four others injured in Nimba County

The Mano River Union Civil Society Natural Resources Rights and Governance Platform (MRU CSO Platform) is calling on Liberian authorities to thoroughly investigate the killing of Solomon Gaye and four others injured over land dispute in Tappita Statutory District, Lower Nimba County, Liberia.

“A thorough and transparent investigation into the ethnic conflicts and the attack that killed Solomon Gaye is critical for authorities to signal that they are serious about reversing the impunity associated with killings linked to land and natural resources conflicts in Liberia”, said Dr. Michel Yoboue, Chair of MRU-CSO Platform.

Information available to the MRU-CSO Platform indicates that Solomon Gaye, 42, who was from the nearby Zodru Town, met his demise while he supposedly attempted intervening in the dispute. “Solomon raised his two hands in the air calling for calm when he was shot,” an eyewitness said.

Clashes ensued between two indigenous communities – Bah and Gbootuo Towns in Kparblee Administrative District in Gblor Clan in Lower Nimba County on Tuesday night, November 16th 2021, when residents were allegedly engaged in retaliatory seizure of forest products harvested from a disputed community forest both towns are claiming.

Solomon had been dispatched in his capacity as a community watch forum member, according to William Kapyea, a cousin of the deceased who spoke with the Platform.

According to William, his deceased cousin was a farmer. He briefly volunteered as a forest guard of the Kparblee Community Forest, before serving as a member of the Community Watch Forum for close to ten years up to his death. Solomon was also a member of the development committee task force in the area. He was married to Dekontee Gaye, and had five children ranging from: 17 to 4 years old.

The Community Watch Forum is an auxiliary of the Community Forest Management Body (CFMB) which was constituted by the Forestry Development Authority and partners to address issues arising from land and forest use.

It is not known yet whether Solomon was deliberately targeted, but the MRU-CSO Platform’s attention is drawn to the fact that the two towns have been involved in long running conflicts over boundary and land disputes, and more so that these towns are inhabited by ethnic Khrans and Gios who had also been at each other’s throats during the country’s civil war. Solomon himself was an ethnic Krahn.

William Kapyea named those wounded from the standoff as: Philip Chokahn, Nelson Paye, Robert Dowah and Eric Fayeh. He said two of the four wounded persons are also from Zodru Town, one from Yorpea, the other from Kparblee. They are said to be recovering, but two are said to still be carrying pellets in their bodies.

Community radio journalist, Jacob Bantu, of Voice of Tappita, said there were indiscriminate discharges of [hunting] gun, which caused residents of the towns and surrounding villages, including women, children and the elderly to flee for fear of reprisal attacks.

Nine people are thought to have been arrested by the police and forwarded to Sanniquellie, the provincial Capital for further investigation, Nimba County (administrative) Inspector Mike Gblinwon says.

However, Police spokesman Moses Carter neither confirmed nor denied the number of people arrested, but said “only three to four suspects were taken to Sanniquellie for further investigation.”

He added: “As you are aware, there has been a longstanding land dispute between the groups for years. Though the investigation is ongoing right now, it is the Land Authority in collaboration with the Ministry of Internal Affairs that has the statutory responsibility to settle land matters as such.”

A local newspaper, Frontpage Africa reported in February of 2017 that tribal land dispute between these two ethnic groups, Krahn and Gio/Dan has been ongoing for several years in Tappita Statutory District in Lower Nimba.

Ethnic tensions, and especially land disputes remain prevalent across the country since the end of the country’s civil war over seventeen years ago.

The MRU CSO Platform is a network of land, environmental and human rights defenders; indigenous, urban slums and squatter communities; communities affected by the operations of multinational corporations; labor unions and poor informal entrepreneurs on the frontline of corporate investments in West Africa. Its membership is drawn from nine of the fifteen countries in West Africa. Namely: Liberia, Sierra Leone, La Cote D’Ivoire, Guinea, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Niger and Senegal.

 The Platform is piloting the newly inaugurated West Africa Frontline Grassroots Defenders Directory, designed to monitor, document, issue alerts and report reprisal attacks and killings of such defenders in the region. The initiative is in respond to the acute under reporting of grassroots defenders in the West Africa.

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