Liberia’s Defense Minister said troops enforcing Monrovia’s West Point slum Ebola quarantine did not shoot directly at residents Wednesday.
Brownie Samukai said a large crowd, mostly youths, attacked the soldiers who were sent to rescue the female commissioner of the area, Aisha Flowers, who had been held hostage.
He said the soldiers fired in the air to disperse the protesters. Samukai said three persons were wounded, not by gunfire, but when they tried to cross over a barb wire security barricade.
“This morning, a group of unruly residents came and began to attack the police and military personnel, throwing rocks, sticks, anything they could put their hands on. And, they went to attack the residence of the district commissioner. It was within the context of that that shots were fired in the air, I repeat, in the air to disperse the crowds,” he said.
Patricks, national director of Liberia Campaigners for Change, a human rights organization, said the soldiers used live fire on the protesters.
“I’m telling you live bullets were used. A 15 year-old boy by the name of Sylvester Kromah was shot in the leg by the Liberian army, the AFL (Armed Forces of Liberia). When he went to rescue one of his family members, who also received a bullet in the process, his leg was shot by the AFL soldiers,” Patricks said.
Samukai said one of the three people injured while attempting to breach the security line suffered a fractured leg.
He said the government has no intention to increase the hardship of the people, and that the curfew and state of emergency are intended to minimize human-to-human contact, thereby breaking the chain of transmission of the Ebola virus.
“The key issue is that there is a deadly outbreak of the Ebola virus in a very congested community. We have to find the way to cut the spread of the virus. And, the way to cut the spread of the virus is to make sure that we are positioned in a way to identify those who have the sickness and, at the same [time], identify those who need assistance,” Samukai said.
Patricks said the Ebola quarantine, the curfew and the state of emergency have deprived the people of West Point, who he describes as mostly as “hustlers,” of their livelihood.
Samukai said the government has taken measures to make sure that food is available to the “most vulnerable” people of West Point.
“What the government intends to do is to find a mechanism through the marketing leadership to provide some kind of subsidy to reduce the increasing price of rice that is taking place at this time. And then, thirdly, those that have been identified as vulnerable persons in the health sector will be given free food,” Samukai said.
Patricks said the residents held Flowers hostage because they did not agree with the government’s decision to remove her from the area. After all, he said, she is a resident of the area and was also affected by the quarantine.
“When the curfew was imposed, the commissioner was also there in West Point, and the mandate was that all those residing in West Point will not be allowed to leave West Point, and no one would be allowed to go into West Point. The commissioner, being a resident of that community, decided to leave with the help of some higher ups to go to another area. So, the residents said you cannot leave us here because the law does not exclude anyone,” said Patricks.