Anger Boils as Nimba Citizens Reject ArcelorMittal’s Land Grab -Mass Protests Loom if…

GANTA: NIMBA COUNTY-Aggrieved citizens from Nimba County have rejected a section of ArcelorMittal-Liberia (AML) amended Mineral Development Agreement which grants the multibillion dollar company an extension of its iron ore operation across their communities-threatening mass protests and complete shutdown of the company’s operation.

“This is a violation of our rights. ArcelorMittal’s Mineral Development Agreement (MDA) does not extend to our area. We will not accept this. We’ll mobilize our people to resist this,” said Alphonso Korto, Executive Director of Nimba Education Guard, a local justice and human rights group.

Residents from Blei, Zolowee, Zor, and Tappa say their anger reached boiling point after they discovered that the new AML deal breached its 2007 mineral agreement with the government. They are demanding the deal be canceled and vowed to shut down the company’s operation if their mandate is ignored, terming it as a dangerous path.

“If this is not halted, we will rally our people to march on the Capitol to present our disagreement to the Legislature,” Korto vowed in an interview with this reporter.

AarcelorMittal’s 2007 MDA permits it to operate iron ore mines in northern Nimba County and does not extend to the county’s Western region. Inhabitants of Zolowee, Blei, and Zor Tppa,   say the company’s extension into their area violates its previous agreement with the government.

AML, one of the world’s giant steel companies, signed a 25-year MDA with the Liberian Government in 2007 to extract iron ore from the Nimba Mountains, effectively taken over the remaining assets of the Liberian American Company (LAMCO) which operated the mines until the country’s civil war erupted. The US$2.6 billion MDA was the first big Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in post-conflict Liberia locals hoped would have bettered their lives.

The company’s previous request to mine iron ore outside of its legally approved concession area in the northern Nimba belt has been rejected numerous times by authorities at the Ministry of Mines and Energy (LME), according to documents seen by this reporter.

“I present my compliments and acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 22 May 2020 with reference “Exploration permit granted overlapping ArcelorMittal Liberia Concession in Liberia” in which you registered a formal protest over the encroachment by Solway Mining Inc (Solway) in an area overlapping AML’s concession. Mr. Lowe, our decision to grant Solway and other company mineral right outside of AML’s Class “A” mining license area is legitimate according to provisions of the Mineral Development Agreement and the mineral and mining law of 2000,” authorities at the LME said in their response to ArcelorMittal’s request dated June 8, 2020.

In spite of the ministry’s rejection, in September last year, ArcelorMital inserted the rejected provision into its latest (third) amended MDA in order to allow it operate across communities in northern Nimba, sparking outrage among villagers.

“The parties agree that the area covered by the aforementioned exploration license, excluding an portion of the railroad corridor and the highway from Sehynkimpa to Zolowee as well as any access roads passing through this exploration license area, is considered disputed for the purpose of mining iron ore (the disputed area,” the company wrongly interpreted the LME’s ruling in its revised MDA.

The company is also calling for an exclusive right to operate the railroad and the Port of Buchanan, according to the new MDA which will soon be presented to the President for his signature. Following the submission of the expanded MDA, international experts’ analysis warned granting the company such approval would cause the government to lose over US$2 billion dollars, according to documents seen by this journalist. “The Case Against AML third Amendment”, the experts’ analysis warned, “the railroad and Buchanan port facilities are owned by the government and should not be giving exclusively to the company, and cautioned that granting such authority to the company would trigger conflict of interest, access manipulation, and substantial economic loss to the government and people of Liberia.”

Extension of the AML’s iron ore mining operation into Zolowee, and other communities not previously included in the MDA violates the 2000 mineral and mining law of Liberia. Section 6.1. of the mining law states that “no person shall engage in Mining in Liberia except pursuant to a license provided for in this chapter.” ArcelorMittal does not have a mining license to operate in Zolowee, Blei, and Zor communities in northern Nimba. The company’s Class “A” mining license defines and confines its iron ore extraction operation to the Yekepa, Tokadeh, Yuelliton, and the Gangra mines in Western Nimba.

“We are prepared to do all within our power to halt this infringement on the rights of our people,” said Meddric Gontee, a youth leader from Zolowee. “We are calling on the legislature to act now. This agreement is bad, and it is unacceptable. We are calling on the President not to sign  it.”

The encouragement also breached International Mining Regulation (IMR), which deals with conflicts that arise over trade in strategic international minerals such as iron ore. The law calls for straight compliance to acceptable corporate behavior, and mandates mining companies to abide by international mining conventions. Section 6.7 of this law has a limitation bond which says that, “Mining License shall not be issued with respect to any area that is already subject to a valid Mineral Right granted to another person.”

Liberia’s 2018 Land Rights Act, which gives the right to customary people to own land, prohibits anything such as land encroachment. Signed into law by President George Weah in September 2018; the law guides against forceful seizure of customary land. Angry citizens in Zolowee and other customary communities say AML’s circumvention of the law in search of iron ore deposits in their forests undermines land tenure and governance in the country.

“This is land-grab,” said Saye Thompson,” spokesman for the Blie, Zolowee, Zor communities. “We are ready to resist this deal until the right things are done.”

The dispute is one of numerous disagreements the company has had with Nimba citizens since its takeover. The entire county recently rose on its feet in rejection of the AML’s latest MDA expansion which they say does not represent their collective aspiration. Citizens in Nimba have repeatedly complained about the company not providing tangible development in the county despite 18- year of operation.

The territorial expansion by ArcelorMitall is likely to spark serious conflict with the Solway Mining Incorporated, which already has a three-year exploration mining license to explore for iron ore in Zolowee, Blei,

Zor, Sehyi Kadoo, and other communities that are denouncing the AML’s action.

“We have heard these disturbing reports and we are studying them. We will give our official response to it shortly,” said Bill Murphy, head of Solway’s public relations.

Reports have it that ArcelorMittal’s rush into the community forests stems from the backdrop that Solway has already discovered huge iron ore deposits worth hundreds of millions of dollars and is in the process of applying for Class “A” mining license after nearly three-years of exploration. Murphy refused to comment on this information when this reporter inquired from him.

Report from the Capitol says tension is already brewing among lawmakers, both within the House of Representative and the Senate over major disagreements relative to the amended AML agreement.

“The House of Representatives extracted the particular portion of the AML amended deal that introduced the extension of the company’s operation into the Zolowee community,” a lawmaker who spoke to this reporter under the cover of the Whistleblower Act, said. “We are aware that the Senate Pro-Tempore is seriously lobbying for signatures for the MDA to be horridly approved, but we will resist this.” Reported by By Saye Goyeadah (Freelance)

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