Defense Ministry Distances Army From Airport Shooting Order

MONROVIA, Montserrado – The Ministry of National Defense has issued a statement distancing the Armed Forces of Liberia from a warning issued by the Liberia Airport Authority that it had reached an agreement with the AFL ordering soldiers to shoot at sight anyone attempting to steal navigational equipment at the Roberts International Airport.

The Airport Authority issued a public service announcement last week that it is collaborating with the army to secure the premises of the airport, especially the aerodrome or airside from theft and unlawful interferences. The announcement was broadcast on ELBC Radio and community radio stations in Lower Margibi. Several newspapers also had it in their publications on Monday.

In addition to the authorization to shoot at sight, the announcement also named patrols by armed soldiers at every entry point of the airside as part of the security measures.

“In view of these security measures, the public is advised to keep away and not to unlawfully interfere with the airside or aerodrome at any time, as these measures will be strictly applied to the letter,” the announcement stressed.

The Airport Authority said it had observed with grave concern that criminals were bent on entering and attempting to steal very important equipment belonging to the airside. These attempts by unknown individuals, it said, could have crippling effects on the operations of the airport.

“Management attaches great importance to the security of these pieces of equipment within the aerodrome or the airside and will spare no efforts to ensure that they are secured and unharmed,” the announcement noted.

Several individuals in the public criticized the contents of the announcement, especially the order to shoot on sight.

Human rights advocate and philanthropist, Trokon Glay, said the order to shoot at sight would violate human rights and could scare travelers and users of the airport, investors, and international partners.

“We have a democratic government. Such statement sounded like a military government’s approach to handle thieves,” Glay said. He advised authorities of the airport to reconsider their announcement.

In a short statement posted on its facebook platform, the Ministry of National Defense distanced itself from the announcement.

“AFL only takes marching order from AFL Command,” the statement.

The assistant defense minister for public affairs, Sam Collins, also told ELBC Radio on Thursday that the claim does not represent the AFL or the Ministry of Defense. Collins said neither the ministry nor the army has any connection to the announcement.

He said while there are currently AFL soldiers assigned at the airport to provide security, the officers have not received any instruction by the high command of the army to shoot at sight, as doing so was not necessary.

According to Collins, the New Defense Act prohibits the AFL from taking orders from anyone, other than the army’s command authority.

Meanwhile, the Airport Authority has clarified that its security measures were not intended to harm or kill anyone.

In a release issued on Thursday, the authority said anyone trespassing within the security restricted areas of the airport would be arrested and dealt with in keeping with the laws of the country. The statement contradicts the previous announcement.

“Those new security measures, as contained in the announcement, are only intended to deter interferences with the aerodrome which sometimes lead to thefts of very valuable navigational equipment,” the statement said.

The Airport Authority management recalled that there have been several attempts made on newly installed navigational equipment, as part of the ongoing resurfacing of the runway by criminals. It added that the act, if not averted, could cause crippling efforts on the airport.

“LAA management assures the public that it respects the law and will do nothing outside of provisions of the laws of Liberia,” the statement concluded.

Featured photo by Zeze Ballah

Gbatemah Senah

Gbatemah is a graduate of the University of Liberia and a recipient of the Jonathan P. Hicks Scholarship for Mass Communications. In 2017, Senah won three Press Union of Liberia awards: Women's Rights Reporter of the Year, Legislative Reporter of the Year, and Land Rights Reporter of the Year. In 2018, he was also recognized as the Land Rights Reporter of the Year.

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