By Morrison O.G. Sayon & Timothy T. Seaklon
In keeping with the orders of the Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia, the Liberian Army has launched what it calls Operation White Shield.
Under this operation, According to Defense Minister, Brownie J. Samukai, the military will establish man checkpoints beginning in Lofa, Bong, Bomi and Cape Mount and will extend into and beyond as required to quarantine affected areas and restrict movements, as well as improve identification, tracing and maintaining medical observation and surveillance of suspected individuals.
Addressing the regular press briefing of the Ministry of Information yesterday in Monrovia, Minister Samukai said these checkpoints are already being established and will include locations such as the St. Paul Bridge, Bo Waterside, Clay and Po River. White Shield will become fully operational by Friday (today).
The military has warned that unless it is absolutely necessary, individuals in unaffected counties are strongly advised to remain in their counties, and to continue to take the necessary preventive measures announced by the health experts.
Samukai said the Army has established several Task Forces to stop the movements of individuals with affected counties and communities and to allow health workers smoothly carry out their responsibilities.
He said the first Task Force is based in Montserrado and extends to Margibi County; the second is based in Foya, Lofa County to monitor and treat affected individuals along the borders of Liberia in that northern county.
He said the same Task Force is also in Voinjama City and Gbakedu, a bordering town that has been quarantined as one of the most affected towns in Lofa County. The Task Force is also based at the St. Paul Bridge that borders Bong and Lofa Counties. The third Task Force, the Defense Minister said is based in Bomi, while the fourth is based in Grand Cape Mount County two western counties that are said to be highly infested with the deadly Ebola virus.
He said the military is presently based at the Clay Junction in Bomi and Sinje, Grand Cape Mount County. The Task Force is expected to stop the movements of individuals from leaving or going to those affected counties. He stated further that the move is intended to contain the Ebola virus and stop further spread of Ebola in Liberia.
Mr. Samukai said the AFL is prepared to respond robustly to the President’s mandate by erecting checkpoints at strategic locations in the country to contain the virus.
At the same time, the military that has been ordered into action has warned politicians in the country not to interfere in its 90 days operation. Samukai said any politician who interferes with the operation of the army will face the full weight of the soldiers as they will deal with the situation severely without discrimination. He said the army will apply the Rule of Engagement in executing Operation White Shield if needed to ensure that the fight against the Ebola virus is seriously contained.
Earlier yesterday before the Defense Ministry Press Conference, there were reports of the security forces restricting the movement of People at the Klay Checkpoint in Bomi County.
When the INQUIRER visited the checkpoint yesterday hundreds of traders and commuters were seen stranded while soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), officers of he Liberia National Police (LNP) and Immigration officers were on duty manning the checkpoint to ensure that no one crosses on either side.
A man identified as John Varney said since 4 p.m. on Wednesday they have been stranded at the checkpoint based on a stop order by the security forces. “We slept at this Checkpoint. I work in Grand Cape Mount but my 18- year old son drowned so I am going back to Monrovia for his burial but here I am; my family is calling me and I cannot go,” he lamented.
Assistant Police Commissioner Daniel B. Gotojuwee said the checkpoint has been closed based on the order from the Chief Executive as she declared the State of Emergency to stop the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.
Madam Sarah Coleman, a market woman, told the INQUIRER that she went to that part of the country to buy fish which she usually brings to Monrovia for sale and since Wednesday she could not reach her family in Monrovia.
The INQUIRER was informed that no company or private vehicle is allowed to cross on either side of the checkpoint but preference is being given to vehicles belonging to the United Nations system and other Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs).
“We came on this side to hustle for our living because we work with a Logging Company here but since Wednesday we cannot cross to go back to Monrovia where we live. Please tell Ellen that we want to go and be with our family,” a spokesman for a group of young workers said.
On both sides of the checkpoint, vehicles with goods, marketers and other residents were seen a stranded mood that has not happened for a long time since the end of the Liberian Civil War.