-Cocopa Still hosting Terror

Monrovia, Liberia

Distributed by

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

Posted March 11, 2006


Cocopa, which inherits its name from the original cash crop that was planted (Cocoa) by former American investors but later transformed into rubber plantation, stands between survival and extinction today as armed men believed to be former Government of Liberia (GOL) fighters are constantly terrorizing the plantation and its inhabitants; writes, Josiah S. Hallie.

The plantation which occupies the land area of approximately 6000 acres is bounded by the Yar River, Gbayldin, Flumpa and Gippo Towns in Nimba County and lies between the commercial city of Ganta and Sacleapea.

Visiting the plantation over the weekend, The FORUM was informed by the fear-looking workers and inhabitants in the area that insecurity has become a major problem for them. One worker who spoke under the condition of anonymity said these armed men come with AK-47 riffles and single barrel guns at nights and attack them to steal the rubber, adding, “they are organized and have a ring leader called Washington Kalay. He comes from Flumpa.”

For his part, J. Gondeh Nenwah, head of the Cocopa workers’ Union told The FORUM that the action of these armed terrorists has caused the workers so much because they are paid based on their production and once these robbers steal the rubber produced by them it affects their daily wages. “In recent time we have seem these men coming in with arms threatening workers; at times, we have to run and sleep in the bush with our families,” Mr. Nenwah said, adding, “it is pathetic that one of our workers was shot and is today lying down in hospital.”

Eyewitnesses informed The FORUM that Fulmpa was used as a military based during the war and most of these fighters might not have gone through the DDRR process of UNMIL. “These guys can defy arrest order since police do not have arms and when they are arrested and sent to court like in Sacleapea and Saniquellie the court officials will set them free, “says a man who only identified himself as Gaye. He said the judicial system in Nimba is weak and saddled with corruption.

“Armed robbery at this plantation is one of the major problems we are faced with,” says Isaac Dahn, a Personnel Supervisor/Public Relations Officer of the company. According to him, children of the locals come here with guns and steal rubber in broad day. He indicated that at times police and UNMIL will come in to help to pursue them but “the most disgusting part is that when the police arrest and send these criminals to court you see these suspects out.”

He pointed out that the man who shot the company’s security guard sometime ago is out going around. Mr. Dahn told The FORUM that it appears that the courts of competent jurisdiction in the county do not know what to do with this notorious criminal Washington Kalay. “I don’t know whether there is no law set aside for people like that [because] Kalay recruits young boys to come with guns every time terrorizing workers to steal and go with impunity.”

Mr. Dahn emphasized that on numerous occasions the management has invited local administrators including the Superintendent for dialogue, saying, “the land and people belong to government; and the people are the custodians but once the government wants to sign concession agreement with any company we cannot say no.”

He said there is a good relationship between the company and the locals, citing an instance where the company CEO Dr. Roland Massaquoi has met these local people on several occasions urging them to send their children to company schools in the area. According to him, Dr. Massaquoi has requested these locals to make available 200 acres of land each at no cost to them for rubber development in their interest but up to now they have not identified any site yet.

For his part, Faikpai Kula Roberts, Administrative Assistant of the Company attributed the constant armed attack by these guys to mere criminal venture without any political or local backing. “We do not want to believe that it is the aspiration or wishes of the people because we know who steal rubber from here,” adding, “These armed men are known but the law has not been effective.”

He said one of the major impediments is that police are not armed and it is only UNMIL peacekeepers but these people do not know the terrain like our local security officers to chase them.

Mr. Roberts further told The FORUM that he is optimistic that with the elected government on the ground, the picture will soon change. “I don’t think that the security of the plantation or concession under the government of Liberia will be undermined,” he noted. He then appealed to President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to give serious attention to security situation in the area.

When Cocopa Management was contacted through the Administrative Manager, George Lobbo, he confirmed that on numerous occasions armed rubber have entered the plantation and caused havoc for the management and workers.

On the issue of anonymous letter written by these armed men for the management to vacate, Mr. Lobbo said the management has received letters on two different occasions but judging by the contents of the letters he does not believe it is part of the wishes and aspiration of the locals. “These are rogues. They do this so that their idea of stealing can be justified,” he said.

He said LIBCO like any other company is a national issue because the government of Liberia is aware that the company is being run by individuals through concession agreement.

One can clearly see that Cocopa plantation operating under LIBCO has been affected greatly by the war as evidenced of charred structure still standing in Camp-3. This, according to information, was a rubber processing plant erected before the war.

On the issue of the workers’ welfare, Mr. Lobbo said the company is now renovating residential structures in the various camps, construction of more hand-pumps for safe drinking water as well as building of schools in Camps-1,4,6 & 7 for the children of these company workers.

According to him, a newly renovated building in Camp-3 will soon be dedicated to be used as a clinic for workers. He said the company has eight divisions with the present workforce of over one thousand. He said based on their recent head count, the present population at the plantation stands at over 5000.

On the issue of remuneration, Mr. Lobbo said: “I do not want to exaggerate things but this company is one of the rubber plantations that pays well. As I speak to you while the collective bargaining agreement is going between the management and the workers. Some of our tapers make at least 172 USD, plus rice ration.”

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