Liberian Journalist Probes the Humanitarian Crisis in Nimba County

By: J. Moses Gray
Inquirer Foreign News Editor

The Inquirer
Monrovia, Liberia

Distributed by

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

Posted November 18, 2003

In order to obtain the actual happening of the pressing humanitarian situation and the reported atrocities and fighting in the embattled county of Nimba, Central Liberia, The INQUIRER Foreign News Editor, Josephus Moses Gray, last Friday ventured into that troubled part of the country to get accounts of the true picture of the general situation on the ground.

Our editor who spent more than seven hours in the embattled county investigating unfolding developments there, departed Monrovia Friday at 08:25 and arrived in one of the strategic cities of Saclepea, central Nimba, at 09:38 on the same day on board UNMIL helicopter.
The city of Saclepea ,which is still in touch with depopulation, is situated between two major devastated cities of Ganta and Tapita in Nimba county.

As soon as we disembarked, I saw visible signs of chaotic and extreme humanitarian suffering the population of Saclepea and its environs are undergoing owing to the military situation obtaining in the areas.

Life is unbearable for the ten thousands internally displaced persons (IDPs) and residents of Saclepea, who have to wait for days, weeks or months for "hand out" from humanitarian organizations and people of goodwill.

Saclepea and its surroundings are home to more than 10,000 IDPs and about 600 Ivorian refugees. These IDPs and refugees have taken over the various school buildings, church edifices, public buildings and private homes to find shelters.

The ongoing gun battle between thee fighters of the Movement for democracy in Liberia or MODEL and militias loyal to former Liberian President Charles Taylor has plagued that part of the country in abject poverty, extreme suffering and disintegrated families.

The humanitarian situation in the areas created by the fighting, as MODEL forces and Taylor’s loyalists undo each others, has broken down homes, thereby leaving the mass IDPs and refugees population at the mercy of God.

While in the areas probing happenings there, I debarked in the hands of an official of a local humanitarian organization operating in the Saclepea- the Community Action Program or CAP, Mr. Christopher O. Johnson, who took me on a tour of Saclepea and its surroundings as well as the IDP and refugees center.

Before we could start our tour of the areas, Mr. Johnson took me at the offices of CAP where he briefed me on the actual situation obtaining in the county. The briefing was in two-fold: military and humanitarians.

According to the CAP executive, the IDPs and the refugees started to arrive in Saclepea and its environs in a mass number on September 12th after their villages and towns came under serious gun battle. He added that the fighting in the area has created what he termed as a "serious humanitarian crisis."

Quoting some of the helpless fleeing IDPs, Mr. Johnson alleged that a pregnant woman was raped by fighters of MODEL, saying that owing to the severe rape the lady encountered in the hands of the fighters, she had a miscarriage and died later.

Besides Mr. Johnson, another victim told me in tears that his entire family of nine including his wife, three daughters and five sons were summary executed in his presence allegedly by MODEL forces.

After killing my entire family members, the victim told The INQUIRER that the MODEL fighters decided to use him as a slave by ordering him to carry their looted items on his heard but said he managed to escape through the mercy of God.

According to statistics of the categories of the precarious vulnerable persons, Saclepea has about 900 persons. The precarious vulnerable groups are in 13 categories of which 106 are frailly elderly, 90 elderly, 117 lactating mothers, and 270 single females parents.

Other are 18 single male parents, 94 pregnant women, 22 single females, 40 separated children, five critical ill persons, and 11 and one disabled and deaf-dump person, respectively.

He also alleged that MODEL fighters are committing outrageous atrocities in towns and villages as well as the forests in and around the embattled town of Graie, 17 kilometers away from Saclepea. This report is yet to be independently confirmed.

Just as we were about to leave the offices of CAP, a relief worker and a resident of Bahn City in Zoe Geh District, Mr. Joseph M. Menhn, arrived with his report which contained details of an ugly happening in the district.

November 16, 2003, Mr. Menhn who described the humanitarian condition in the district as "disaster" and told me that IDPs who are fleeing the embattled city of Graie are constantly harassed, manhandled and their belongings taken away by former government militias and MODEL fighters.

According to him, there are more than 3,555 IDPs of whom 1965 are women, adding that there are hundreds of malnourished cases of children and elderly. " Our people have not been catered to for months," Mr. Menhn added.

When asked whether I could venture into the district, the relief worker said to me, " it will be to your own detriment, it is not safe for a person like you to travel into the district."

As soon as I got through with Mr. Menhn, my next stop was in the offices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Saclepea, where I was again briefed on the fighting and humanitarian situations in the county.

In his details relative to the fighting in the county, Mr. Robert Seugbay, head of security at the UNHCR Saclepea office, said several towns and villages have been set ablaze and burnt down to ashes while others have been deserted.

He named Gbloulay, Yourpea and Balouplay, among several of the towns and villages that have been burnt down to ground level. He also said Tiaplay, the birth home of the former notorious government commander, Benjamin Yeaten has been hit severely by the war in the county.

Other town and villages also hard hit by the fighting according to the UNHCR security chief include Tapita, Zoto, Slunge, Numapa, Luanhplay, Loyee, Zuoloy, Vonie, Kenpea, Gbiomla, Zikepa, Voipe, Kohye and Gamwe, among others.

Information also gathered at the UNHCR offices further indicates that last week heavy fighting took place in Gbiomla town. This town is situated between Graie and Tapita.

I also visited the John Voker High School IDPs center in the area. The assistant Chairman of the center, Mr. Prince Broah told me that the camp is hosting 1,500 IDPs, while other IDPs are still arriving at the center in mass from the battle zone.

According to him, out of the 1,500 IDPs, 40 are children without parents and 38 women lost their husband while fleeing fighting in their villages and towns.

While at the IDPs center, some of the vulnerable persons especially the elderly and children were seemed lying on the chill ground. They look malnourished due to starvation and sickness.

After my tour of the IDP center, I took on a 20-minute journey to the largest IDPs/refugees center, situated outside Saclepea.

Speaking separately at the center, the chairpersons of the Ivorian refugees and the IDPs Mr. John Miremont ( an Ivorian) and Rev. Nathaniel smith spoke of their pathetic and grave situation.

On behalf of the Ivorian refugees, Mr. Miremont, a classroom teacher told The INQUIRER that some of the Ivorian refugees are hiding in thee forests owing to the fighting in the county.
During my tour of the center, I managed to visit the only medical center being run by CAP. The center caters to the health need on these vulnerable groups while reports obtained from the center show that between 30-50 IDPs/refugees visit the clinic on a daily basis.

While at the center, I saw a several malnourished children and women. At one point, an ill-child and severally malnourished, Menson Voan, 7-year old, could not stand on his feet.
Little Voan is so malnourished to the extend that one can count his rib bones but the supervisor of the health center, Madma Lucia Kehwilliam is doing her best to safe the life of little Voan. Madam Kehwilliam told me that the little Voan can survive his unfortunate condition.

The last area that I visited before returning to the capital was the Saclepea radio station-Voice of Saclepea which broadcast on FM101.

According to the coordinator of the station, Mr. Robert Y. Matally, the station is the only medium of communication and hope for the suffering population. He said rumors of attack on Saclepea is so high in the area that the depopulation counts on the station by factual information. The broadcast hours of thee Voice of Saclepea run from 05:30 am to 12 noon and 1:00PM to 9:30-pm daily.

Meanwhile, a representative of a United States-based relief, humanitarians and developmental organization, the Mano River Relief and Development Network (NRRDN) also paid a visit to Saclepea to ascertain first hand information and assess the plight of the IDPs and refugees in the area.

The MRRDN representative told the INQUIRER in Saclepea last Friday that he was shocked by what he described as "serious" humanitarian situation in the area.

He said it was very disturbing and troubling for the IDPs and refugees to suffer such an ugly situation created by the war in the country, adding that the conditions of the IDPs/ refugees are grave and pathetic.

As the way of identifying with the vulnerable groups, the MRRDN told the IDPs and refugees that MRRDN will undertake meaningful projects and will advocate for them for assistance.

He, however, urged them to take advantage of the assistance rendering them by some organizations.

The IDPs and refugees speaking separately applauded the MRRDN for assessing their plights and appealed to the MRRDN representative to advocate for them.

© 2003: This article is copyrighted by The Inquirer newspaper (Monrovia, Liberia) and distributed by The Perspective (Atlanta, Georgia). All rights reserved.