Source: FrontPage Africa
Buutuo/ Luogatuo/Oluguatuo, Nimba County –
Vivienne Toure claims her husband is on the run from troops loyal to embattled Ivorian leader Laurent Gbagbo. His crime? Voting for the internationally-recognized winner of the just-ended run-off election for the Ivorian presidency, Alhassane Ouattarra.
Nowadays, Toure, 30, sells “cool aid” in the border town of Buutuo for LD5.00 per sac to make a living.
An UNMIL soldier guards entry border point at Luguatuo, Nimba County.
Buutuo, Toure’s newfound-home, is the main entry point used by Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) to launch his rebellion in Liberia, on December 24, 1989. Twenty years later, the same nature of vulnerability which embraced the rebels then, appears to be in play and many are beginning to fear that the town is simply not be ready and does not have the mechanisms in place to cater to the influx of refugees now pouring into Liberia from the Ivory Coast, now involved in a post-election violence.
Until the recent downturn of events in the Ivory Coast, the town had been forgotten except a notable mention as the entry point for cocoa and coffee from the Ivory Coast into Liberia.
Buutuo is the capital of Zoegeh district in eastern Nimba County. Once a growing city with over 25,000 people in the mid and late 1980s, the city has been ruined and reduced to nothing. Diamonds were reportedly found by locals in the late 1990s and the Ivorian uprising in 2003, the once center of commerce held a population of just over 600 people. Now it is estimated that the town holds nearly 10,000 and growing, due to the refugees fleeing the Ivorian crisis.
Today refugees like Vivienne Toure have to make a new life for themselves. She explains to a visitor via an interpreter in Gio: “I go to the nearest Ivorian town in the evening and mix the cool aid and put it in the ice box, before day breaks, it’s all ice and then I come here to sell.”
‘The are Ouattarra’s people’
Ibrahima Coly, UNHCR rep in Liberia confirmed to FrontPageAfrica Tuesday that the latest number of refugees entering Liberia through the Buutuo point of entry since the uprisings in the Ivory Coast at 6,183(six thousand, one hundred and eighty three) although fresh reports late Tuesday suggested that the number could very well hit close to ten thousand by Christmas.
Toure, a mother of three says she is left with no alternative but to fend for her kids. “I make L$500 to L$650.00 daily,” she says, adding: “This is enough to take care of my children and myself.”
Asked how she manages to skip past the Ivorian security officers at the Ivorian side of the border, the Ivorian mother says. “They know me very well, and they are Ouattara people, so they are very friendly and even buy my cool aid. On a daily basis, Toure says, she uses her cooler to sell and obtain her daily bread. One look at her cooler and you will know that a Mary Broh won’t allow such in the city of Monrovia, but this is Buutuo, where hygiene is just a word.”
At the Buutuo entry point, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) registers a huge number of refugees arriving daily, mainly women, children and the elderly.
Rep puts refugees influx at 1,683
Ibrahima Coly, UNHCR rep in Liberia confirmed to FrontPageAfrica Tuesday that the latest number of refugees entering Liberia through the Buutuo point of entry since the uprisings in the Ivory Coast at 6,183(six thousand, one hundred and eighty three) although fresh reports late Tuesday suggested that the number could very well hit close to ten thousand by Christmas. Ironically, all this is taking place nearing Christmas Eve, the same date NPFL forces entered Buutuo and began a civil war which killed thousands.
Some officials indicate that the refugees are running to Liberia to seek international protection because their government has failed to render them national protection. There are medical outlets for the refugees Buutuo, Blontuo, Caffeplay, Dinplay, etc), areas where the UNHCR has presence.
Ragged-dressed police manning post
Officers assigned at the Buutuo and Luogatuo border points are either wearing very faded uniforms or not uniformed at all.
Security at the border is porous at best. At the main entry point, only two of the five Liberian National Police (LNP) officers assigned there were present. A visitor saw only four immigration officers on scene without uniforms. According to the LNP officers, there are 11 entry points in the Buutuo areas, but, like the Luogatuo entry point, but only one is being manned.
At the Buutuo border point, the handful of police officers are poorly dressed with many sporting scruffy uniforms and really old shoes, practically have no equipment with which to fight crimes in the area or deter possible stray fighters from next door Ivory Coast. Some residents in the area told a FrontPageAfrica reporter that there is a need for the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization(BIN) to provide uniforms for officers assigned at the border points to indicate a sign of distinction and set them apart or at least give them some kind of identity.
An officer assigned at the Buutuo border point of entry to regulate security at the border between Ivory Coast and Liberia aptly told a bystander, “out of sight, out of mind”. Officers assigned at the Buutuo and Luogatuo border points are either wearing very faded uniforms or not uniformed at all. The officer who declined to state his name was sporting faded uniform with his very old and peeling shoes, the only pair he has to work and looked obviously ill-equipped as he appeared to have not been given a new supply of equipment since he joined the force.
Saye Gartuah, a resident in the area, obviously frustrated with the poor dress code of immigration and police officders believes that Buutuo, a strategic place in which the government of Liberia and the United Nations Mission in Liberia(UNMIL) should place much emphasis in securing at all times and for obvious reasons.
The town has a history of being infiltrated by the NPFL of ex-president Charles Taylor, which cost the lives of over half a million Liberian and plunged Africa’s oldest republic into a 14 year long civil conflict.
Says Gartuah: “A hint to the wise is quite sufficient; we hope the GOL will do something pretty soon, as the Ivorian side of the border is being manned by members of the New Forces Rebels loyal to Al-hassan Ouattara. Indicating that any eventuality upon their (rebels) territory could have them running into Liberia for safety, this could lead to harassment of our citizens in that part of Liberia.”
Zigzag Mazah in Ivory Coast?
Refugees from the Ivory Coast shortly after arrival in Buutuo.
Fueling more fear in recent days are reports among some residents in the area that a former ex-rebel strongman Zigzag Mazah has been spotted in the Ivory Coast recruiting Liberian ex-combatants to fight for Laurent Gbagbo. FrontPageAfrica has been unable to verify the Mazah myth and has been unable to reach the former rebel stalwart for comment. Another former warlord with ties to Ivory Coast, the former MODEL leader Thomas Yah-Yah Nimley has denied recruiting his former combatants to fight alongside Gbagbo.
Some eyewitnesses informed FPA that Mazah is reported to be based in the Ivorian town of Zoegeh, from where he is secretly recruiting ex-Liberian fighters in support of Laurent Gbagbo, the Ivorian incumbent who refused to step down after losing to his opposition in the Ivorian elections of November 2010. With Mazah in the Ivory Coast, secretly recruiting ex-combatants, and the Liberian border point of Buutuo being very vulnerable, a shudder of fear is running up the spines of those of us who know what happened during the 14 years civil conflict in Liberia. One senior Liberian government official told FrontPageAfrica that Mazah has not returned to Liberia since testifying against former President Taylor at The Hague.
Addressing her final news conference for the year 2010 Monday, Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said her administration had strong intelligence report that some Liberians have crossed over into the Ivory Coast to join the crisis as possible soldiers of fortune. “Although we have put a notice to all Liberians to stay out of the war in Ivory Coast because they would be breaking our own laws and they could be prosecuted under our laws if they took part in a foreign war. We are appealing to them to stay out of it”, the President declared.
Sirleaf’s declaration followed suggestions Monday by a spokeswoman for Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognized winner of last month’s Ivory Coast presidential election, who told the Voice of America (VOA) that embattled President Laurent Gbagbo has recruited fighters from Liberia and Angola to kill supporters of Mr. Ouattara.
An aerial view of Luguatuo
Kandia Kamara says Gbagbo supporters are responsible for the deaths of as many as 120 young people around the Ivorian commercial capital of Abidjan. She said 65 bodies were discovered Sunday in Abobo, a suburb of Abidjan. Spokeswoman Kamara told the VOA Daybreak Africa that Ouattara wants U.N. peacekeepers to remain in Ivory Coast to protect Ivorians from Mr. Gbagbo supporters.
“We wonder how he (Mr. Gbagbo) can dare (to order UN peacekeepers out of the country) because he is no more the president of Ivory Coast. So it’s Mr. Ouattara, the present president of Ivory Coast who can decide whether they (U.N. peacekeepers) can stay or not,” she said.
Concerns about Liberians involvement in the Ivorian saga were compounded in fears expressed by the U.S. Ambassador accredited to Monrovia revealed in WikiLeaks document recently.
Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said factions like the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL) were involved in crisis in both neighboring Guinea and the Ivory Coast.
“While apparently unarmed and not active in Liberia, we continue to receive reports that LURD is recruiting ex-combatants for militias in Guinea and MODEL is doing the same for Cote d’Ivoire,” the envoy noted.
8,000 Estimated at Luogatuo Entry Point
Darius M. Zardah, Township commissioner of the Luogatuo area, says the regular population of the township of three towns, has been one thousand eight hundred individuals, but due to the influx of refugees, the number have swelled to well over 7,000 individuals.
As residents and local official fear rising refugee tide, Cllr. Hector W. Kwegboi, County Attorney of Nimba said as of last Saturday, a total of 8,000 Ivorian refugees had entered into Liberia through the Luogatuo entry point. But like Buutuo, the lack of government’s policy of not-establishing refugee camps, the refugees are being hosted by local community dwellers. The county official was quick to point out that the number is arguably higher than stated, because most of the refugees are using the unmanned entry points for fear of reprisal, thus making it quite difficult.
There are at least seventeen entry points at the border with Ivory Coast, but only one is being manned raising concerns that most of the refugees are entering through the unmanned entry points posing serious threat to Liberia’s national security.
Same problems in Ologuatuo
A visitor driving in Ologuatuo, a village 5 minutes drive away from the Logatuo border point, refugees were seen in a huge number standing around, most being registered by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). Almost all of the refugees present could not speak or understand English, only Gio, which is a vernacular between Liberia and Ivory Coast is a common means of communication with the locals.
Darius M. Zardah, Township commissioner of the Luogatuo area, says the regular population of the township of three towns, has been one thousand eight hundred individuals, but due to the influx of refugees, the number have swelled to well over 7,000 individuals. Because of this, Zardah says, the shortages of basic necessities such as water, food and medical supplies are being experienced. “There are two hand pumps in the area, but only one is operational due to the breakdown of the other. There are no latrines in the township, so, the locals, plus the refugees use the bushes to ease themselves.”
By Rodney D. Sieh