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Friday, June 14, 2024

TENSIONS ESCALATE AS ‘COUNTRY DEVILS’ ERECT ROADBLOCKS AT ARCELORMITTAL MINES

Date:

NIMBA CO., LIBERIA – Amid escalating tensions, calls for calm have emerged as the actions of Boima Morgan disrupt the operations of ArcelorMittal Liberia (AML) in Nimba County. Staff evacuations from the mines and security concerns for nearby mining communities have heightened the situation, prompting reports that the company is collaborating with local authorities to ease tensions.

Boima Morgan is accused of orchestrating efforts to obstruct AML operations at all three mining sites: Tokadeh, Gangra, and Yuelliton, as well as at the Blei and Detton Exploration Area, formerly known as the Solway area.

On May 4–5, Boima allegedly organized three busloads of people, paying each individual up to US$50 to travel to Monrovia and protest against ArcelorMittal at the National Legislature. Pictures and videos from one of the mine communities depict dozens of citizens being loaded onto a yellow bus.

This move has sparked questions about Boima’s motives and the potential repercussions for the community, the company, and investment in Liberia.

The situation escalated on Monday morning, May 6, as individuals paid by Boima and others deployed traditional ‘country devil’ at ArcelorMittal mines. These ‘country devils’ erected makeshift roadblocks at major entrances to the mines and Blei-Detton exploration areas, halting the movement of people, vehicles, and equipment.

These disruptions have significantly impacted operations and raised concerns about the safety of personnel and the broader community in the Nimba mining areas.

Despite efforts by local authorities to intervene and negotiate with the protesters, the situation remains tense. The protesters, who initially agreed to terms, have since intensified their presence and obstructed operations at the mines. Their attempt to enter the Blei-Detton camp was met with resistance from security and the Liberia National Police (LNP).

Reports indicate that the situation is escalating, leading the Minister of Internal Affairs to dispatch the Chief Zoe from Grand Bassa County to engage with the protesters in hopes of resolving the situation.

As the situation continues to unfold, stakeholders are closely monitoring developments, hoping for a swift resolution that prioritizes the safety and well-being of all involved.

The controversy is further compounded by the history of the area’s mining rights. Under the administration of former President Sirleaf, the Ministry of Mines and Energy granted an iron ore exploration permit to Mount Bele Resources on Blei Community Forestland, as well as a permit to process iron ore tailings in the southwestern portion of the Barcoline community in Nimba County—an area where Solway operates today.

However, upon discovering that the area had previously been allocated to ArcelorMittal Liberia, President Sirleaf initiated a high-level investigation. Acting under Sirleaf’s instruction, Minister Patrick Sendolo canceled the exploration permit, and those responsible for issuing the license were dismissed. This revocation stemmed from their concession area overlapping with the original LAMCO Concession, later granted to ArcelorMittal Liberia during the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf era.

Mount Bele Resources pursued legal action, taking their case to the ECOWAS Court of Justice in 2019 after their exploration license was revoked. However, the court dismissed the claim, and the company left Liberia.

Maps and documents suggest that the same area was later granted an exploration permit by the Weah-led administration to SOLWAY Mining Group—a move that Boima Margan has long contested, claiming ownership.

According to maps and diagrams, SOLWAY is encroaching upon the Blei Concession area, totaling 5574 hectares, tied to the claim during the Sirleaf era when an iron ore exploration permit was allegedly given to Mount Bele Resources and subsequently canceled due to encroachment on AML’s concession area.

With the CDC government assuming power in 2018, individuals previously dismissed by President Sirleaf assumed leadership roles within the Ministry of Mines and Energy. Subsequently, Solway was granted an exploration license in the same area.

In 2022, ArcelorMittal wrote to the Weah-led government, urging them to revoke the mineral exploration license issued to Solway Mining Group, citing violations of their Mineral Development Agreement signed with the government. However, the government disregarded ArcelorMittal’s request until it was defeated in 2023.

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