What really happened in Foya City, Lofa County, has been the baffling question on the minds ofLiberians since violence erupted between rival supporters of the Coalition for DemocraticChange (CDC) and Unity Party in the northern county of Lofa over the weekend.
In the wake of the violent incident which claimed the lives of at least two persons in Foya, Lofa County, the Government of Liberia imposed an overnight curfew late Friday night in FoyahCity and surroundings as the situation worsened following a fluid of deadly violence earlier in the day.
Early, Friday morning, reports emerged from the Northern Liberia county of Lofa’s Foyah District, of deadly clashes between supporters of the opposition Unity Party and the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) and that at least four persons are feared dead.
This figure still could not be independently verified due to continuing tension and overnight curfew which has been imposed.
Our correspondent in the county quoting eyewitnesses disclosed that the violence erupted when hundreds of supporters of the opposition Unity Party gathered early Friday morning to welcome a team of citizens of Foyah residing in the Americas.
According to eyewitnesses, these citizens recently returned to canvas for their tribal man, former Vice President Joseph N. Boakai. According to the reports, it was during this time of the welcome that they allegedly came under sustained “attacks” from some unidentified persons, who were said to have been housed in the hotel of incumbent Montserrado County, District Number 5 Representative Thomas Fallah. Fallah is now contesting for the Representative seat in Foyah District on the ruling CDC ticket.
According to eyewitnesses, the incident led to supporters of the Unity Party retaliating bringing the clashes into an uncontrollable scene.
By mid-day according to report, the violence had spread throughout central Foyah, particularly alongside the Shalom Road leading to the hotel of Rep. Fallah. Eyewitnesses told this paper that they saw two unidentified dead bodies believed to be supporters of the Unity Party.
At the sub-station of the Liberia National Police, officers were seen calling for reinforcement from its Voinjama detachment before dark as they weren’t able to contain the situation.
A Commander of the Police Support Unit who along with officers of the PSU dispatched in Foya disclosed that the situation was tense when they got on the ground as rival supporters were engaged in fierce stone-throwing battle.
Commander Clement Ballah who spoke to a local television station in Foya City, dispelled reports of the death of four persons during the violence but admitted that he saw two persons believed to be unconscious laying alone the road but were later taken to the hospital. The Police Commander said no one died during the violence as widely reported in the media and on social media.
However, reports from the CDC camp alleged that some members of the Unity Party in Lofa County carried out vandalization of the newly erected street lights and have made attempts to carry out the destruction of the newly constructed town by Rep. Thomas Fallah.
Unity Party campaign spokesman, Mo Ali, says the incident was triggered by supporters of Rep. Fallah who began throwing stones at members of the Unity Party from his fence. Two people are believed to have died from the violence and several were injured, including a law enforcement officer.
Ernest Duku Jallah, a supporter of the ruling CDC currently in Foya told reporters that Rep. Fallah had advised his supporters in Foya to stay off the streets and avoid wearing the party’s T-shirt in order to give way for the Unity Party campaign launch in the District.
However, he said to his surprise, he saw members of the opposition Unity Party on the rampage, destroying street lights and attacking people whom they knew to be supporters of the CDC.
A video posted by Rep. Fallah on Facebook shows a graphic picture of the people of the area running helter-skelter with some men holding sticks in their hands.
Journalist Garmah Lomo who had gone in Foya for a Representative debate narrated that she was on her way from Kolahun when she saw people believed to be supporters of the Unity Party in area where Rep. Fallah’s compound is located and began engaging in stone-throwing into his fence. According to her, they were chanting “Thomas Fallah da rogue, we’ll not vote for him.”
She said she witnessed the destruction of the street lights in the area and further explained that a motorcyclist who had a CDC campaign sticker on his bike was brutally mobbed and is believed to have died at their hands.
In retaliation, she said members of the CDC also set up a roadblock and threatened to harm any Unity Party member that crossed their line. This, according to Journalist Lomo led to the beating of an older man believed to be a member of the opposition Unity Party. She said Police in the area said they were not equipped to adequately respond to such riots.
Unity Party campaign spokesman, Mo Ali, who is currently in Monrovia said he gathered that members of his party had gathered at a major intersection which isn’t far from Rep. Fallah’s compound to welcome other members who were coming from nearby towns for a major program being hosted by the party in the Foya.
He explained that while they were at the intersection, members of the CDC in Rep. Fallah’s compound began throwing stones at them. They, too, according to him, responded with stone-throwing.
“And in the process, while they were exchanging the throwing of stones, one of our supporters was collected by the Thomas Fallah people and was dragged into his headquarters’ fence. We don’t know the status of that person,” he said.
He emphasized that it was well known in Foya that Unity Party was having its program in the District and therefore did not expect interference from the ruling CDC.
Back in Monrovia, Police spokesman, Moses Carter, acknowledged the violence in Foyah and told this paper that officers of the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) Voinjamadetachment were headed to the scene to beef up the police unit currently stationed in Foyah District.
Carter further said that the government will provide details on the Friday incident at a major press conference expected later this morning Saturday, September 30.
Unity Party’s Campaign spokesman, Mo Ali, told this newspaper that the incident is intense and could speak little about ongoing clashes as it was difficult to get party officials in Lofa County, including Foyah.
He reaffirmed that at least four persons are feared dead from preliminary reports from the district.
Lofa County’s District #4 Representative Francis Nyumalin also declined to speak elaborately on the situation due to the fluidity of the situation.
The clashes come barely a day after U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken threatened to impose visa restrictions on persons instigating violence during and after Liberia’s Presidential and Legislative Elections slated for October 10, 2023.
In a release issued late Wednesday evening, Secretary of State Blinken announced the new visa restriction policy under Section 212(a)(3)C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act for those undermining democracy in Liberia.
The Chief US diplomat further said the US will impose visa restrictions on officials who were allegedly involved in the manipulation and rigging of the electoral process, as well as those involved in alleged acts of intimidating voters, election observers, and civil society activities.
“Under this policy, the United States will pursue visa restrictions for those believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining democracy in Sierra Leone, including through the manipulation or rigging of the electoral process; intimidation of voters, election observers, or civil society organizations through threats or acts of physical violence; or the abuse or violation of related human rights in Sierra Leone,” Mr. Blinken said in a statement.
The policy, which takes effect in advance of the upcoming election, will affect officials of the government and others who are or will be involved in the manipulation and rigging of the electoral process, as well as those involved in alleged acts of intimidating voters, election observers, and civil society activities.
In a swift reaction, the government of Liberia has welcomed the United States Government visa restriction policy.
In a statement by Information Minister, Mr. Ledgerhood J. Rennie, the Government of Liberia stated that it welcomes the latest United States Government’s visa restriction policy intended to target those who undermine democracy in Liberia.
“This policy, the government believes, further reinforces President George M. Weah’s expressed commitment to building a more democratic society – grounded in respect for the rule of law, free expression, and association, as well as the holding of free and fair elections.”
“This was the central theme of his address to the UN General Assembly last week and during various conversations with U.S. stakeholders – including U.S. Charge d’Affairs Catherine Rodriguez.”
“The Government believes the U.S. statement, coming at a time when incendiary rhetoric by politicians have been on the rise, will aid its efforts to calm public anxiety around the upcoming democratic exercise,” Information Minister Legehood Julius Rennie read a statement from the Liberian Government.