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Belgian, Zimbabwean shot in land protest in Sierra Leone

Land cleared for a palm oil plantation is seen in Malen chiefdom in Pujehun district in southern Sierra Leone October 27, 2011. (Photo: REUTERS/Simon Akam)
Reuters | 17 January 2015

Belgian, Zimbabwean shot in land protest in Sierra Leone

FREETOWN, Jan 17 (Reuters) - A Belgian and a Zimbabwean working for international agribusiness company Socfin Group have been shot during a protest over land rights in Sierra Leone, police said on Saturday.

The Luxembourg-registered company, part of the business empire of the French tycoon Vincent Bollore, is embroiled in a bitter feud with local landowners in the Malen chiefdom where it has its palm oil plantations.

Socfin said the two men were returning from overseeing the extinguishing of a fire at the plantation when they were attacked by people throwing stones and their vehicle was shot at. The two have received medical treatment for injuries and their lives were not at risk.

Police Chief Superintendent Nathaniel Brewah said 11 arrests had been made, among them an elected local councillor, and a manhunt was underway for the main suspect who is believed to have fired the hunting rifle.

A spokesman for MALOA, an organisation campaigning for compensation for locals aggrieved over a 2011 deal that ceded land to the company, condemned the attack.

Residents say the $5 per acre they receive for their land per year is not sufficient and argue they did not understand the lease agreement, or were coerced into signing.

The company said it fully consulted with landowners over the deal and had their support. It says it has heavily invested in local infrastructure and social services, as well as jobs.

Sierra Leone was devastated by civil war between 1991 and 2002. Since then, has succeeded in luring foreign investors in agriculture as well as resources such as iron ore and bauxite, though its economy has been hard-hit by a slump in international commodities prices and an ongoing Ebola epidemic.

Palm oil is the world's most important vegetable oil and is used to make margarine and soap.

(Reporting by Umaru Fofana; Editing by Rosalind Russell)

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Global Times | 17 January

Armed attack on Socfin … Police arrest 13

by Amadu Daramy

The Officer Commanding Sahn Malen Police Station in Pujehun district, Assistant Superintendent Theo Koroma has confirmed the arrest and detention of thirteen suspects following a fire and shooting incident at a plantation belonging to Socfin Agricultural Company.

ASP Koroma told the Global Times that, the suspects were helping them in their investigation into allegations that, the Plantation Manager at Socfin, Gordon Paterson was shot in the arm following a mob attack in the village of Bamba.
Police investigators told the Global Times that, the attack on two of the company’s expatriate staff “was unprovoked”.

Gordon Paterson and Tanguy Denis had gone to a plantation in Zone A to put out a mysterious fire that had been set to the plantation by some unknown arsonists in a village called Bamba. The incident took place on January 15, 2015.

It was as a result of trying to put out the inferno that the two Socfin staff got attacked by some unknown persons. Gunshots were heard and the company’s vehicle with registration number AJE 690 was pelted with messiles believed to be rock stones.

The Police boss in Sahn Malen told the Global Times that his men were determined to get to the bottom of this unprovoked attack. This is not the first time that the company’s personnel and property have come under such dastardly attack, according to Police sources.

A former PMDC Member of Parliament, Hon. Shaka Sama and five other people are currently standing trial in the Bo High Court for allegedly destroying property belonging to Socfin Agricultural Company.

The Public Relations Officer of Socfin, Mr. Easmon Moiguah described the action of the attackers on the company’s personnel and property as “callous and completely inhuman”.
Police investigations continue.

Who's involved?

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