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LIBERIA: Government Reclaims Rubber Plantation from Former Fighters
8/17/2006 11:45 AM

The Liberian government, backed by United Nations peacekeepers, says it has repossessed Guthrie Rubber Plantation from a band of some 500 ex-rebels who have been illegally tapping the trees since the end of the war.

Liberian police and UN soldiers in armoured vehicles made way for the special ceremony on Tuesday, but the former combatants said they would not leave.

The former fighters, who have formed an association named the National Veterans Rehabilitation Programme, say they need about three months to fully leave the plantation.

Reclamation of the Guthrie Rubber Plantation some 50 km outside of the capital Monrovia is part of the post-war government’s commitment to resuscitate the battered Liberian economy.

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf took office in January, pledging to create jobs and a favourable climate for investment.

Liberia Agriculture Minister Chris Toe told IRIN that the government has granted a temporary management permit for Guthrie Rubber Plantation to the Liberia Rubber Planters Association (LRPA).

“LRPA will assume the interim management of the plantation until the government is ready for a signing of a long-term contract in the not too distant future,” Toe said.

Liberia’s 14-year civil war ended in 2003, but gangs of former rebel fighters have hung on in both Guthrie and Sinoe rubber plantations in the southeast. Communities living close to both plantations have made repeated complaints of violent crimes by the former combatants.

For three years, the ex-rebels at Guthrie have made a living illegally tapping the rubber trees and selling the latex sap to merchants in Monrovia. But now the legal concession for that trade is with the LRPA.

One former fighter on the plantation told IRIN on Tuesday that each former fighter earned about US$ 150 a week in a country where the World Bank estimates that most ordinary Liberians exist on less than US $1 per day.

Security for LRPA’s operations is to be assured by a newly trained contingent of Liberian police officers with the support of peacekeepers, said officers of the UN force.

Minister Toe said the government would continue to dialogue with the former fighters.

“We will still talk to them and that is why our partners like the National Commission on Disarmament, Demobilisation, Rehabilitation and Reintegration [NCDDRR] are involved in the process to cater to those former fighters,” he said.

Sumo Dennis, the leader of the former fighters in Guthrie, told IRIN they need enough time to leave the plantation.

“We have appealed to the Government to give us 90 days so we can relocate along with our families to another place,” said Dennis, “but we will not carry out any trouble or challenge the authority of our government.”

Emmanuel Kaye, a former fighter with the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy rebel group, said that they have not been given the full package promised to them in return for handing in their guns.

“Some of us disarmed to UNMIL [UN peacekeepers],” said Kaye, “but we were not given disarmament packages like going to school or learning other vocations…. us being on this farm selling rubber was another form of keeping us busy.”

Published in: LIBERIA: Gov’t reclaims rubber plantation from former fighters, IRINNews, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, August 16, 2006. © IRIN.