Liberia Welcomes US Military Role in Ebola Fight

Liberia’s Defense Minister Brownie Samukai has welcomed President Barack Obama’s announcement that the U.S. military will help in the fight against the Ebola virus. 

Samukai, who is currently in the United States, said his visit is part of his government’s effort to bring to the attention of the international community the scale of the Ebola virus and solicit their support.  

Speaking Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press television program, Obama said U.S. military assets are needed to set up isolation units and equipment and provide security for international health workers.

Samukai said Liberia looks forward to U.S. cooperation.

“We had discussions at the Department of Defense on the issues of utilizing and requesting the full skill of United States capabilities, both on the soft side and on the side of providing logistics and technical expertise… And, we as a country are extremely pleased with the announcement that we have heard, and we look forward to that cooperation as expeditiously as we can,” he said.

Samukai said his visit to Washington included meetings with officials the defense department and leaders of Congress.

He said Ebola has brought Liberia’s entire economy to a standstill, and his country’s ability to respond to the crisis has been limited.

Samukai said Obama’s announcement indicates the U.S. has heard and heeded President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s plea for help, as well as the appeals of the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Samukai said he and Liberia’s ambassador to the United Nations will represent Sirleaf Tuesday at the UN when the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Coordinator of UN Operations in Liberia will report to the Security Council on the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission in Liberia, which expired last month. 

Observers say that, given the current health crisis brought on by Ebola, Special Representative Karin Landgren’s report might focus on the Ebola crisis instead.

Last month, Sirleaf authorized the defense ministry to set up a board of inquiry to look into the Ebola-related rioting and deadly shooting in the West Point slum of the capital, Monrovia. 

She gave the Defense Ministry 10 days to submit its findings.

The government had quarantined West Point as part of an effort to contain the deadly Ebola virus.  Soldiers opened fire and used tear gas on protesters. 

One person, a 16-year old boy, has died of his wounds.  He was among four wounded during the clashes. 

Samukai told VOA that soldiers did not shoot directly at the residents.  He said those wounded were trying to break a barb wire security barrier. However, relatives of the dead boy said he died from gunshot wounds.

Samukai expressed regrets and said the military has learned some lessons from the West Point protest.

“There’s always lesson learned.  It was a very unfortunate incident.  It’s not the norm, but it was a very unfortunate incident that occurred, and we are very regretful that that incident occurred, and that was not intended to show in any way what things are,” Samukai said.

There have been calls for an independent investigation because some residents of West Point and civil society have said they don’t believe the army can be impartial.

Samukai said the army will be fair in using its own internal investigative process.

“Let us be fair to ourselves.  Everywhere in the global community, where there’s an incident involving the military personnel, there is no international human rights commission or there’s no international investigation that takes place.  First, the military itself has to police itself using the credibility of the uniform court of military justice.  So, we have to be fair to ourselves and that is our intention,” Samukai said.

Samukai brushed aside calls for his resignation because of what some are calling the military’s heavy-handed respond to the West Point protest.  He said he respects the rights of all Liberians to express their opinions.

“The good thing about democracy is that everybody has the right to see whatever they want to see and request whatever they want to request.  We are focused on responding to the Ebola crisis; we are focused on ensuring that our health delivery system is improved; we are focused that our Liberian economy gets back on track; and, we are focused on ensuring that all of the international support and assistance that are coming to Liberia can be harnessed in dealing with this Ebola crisis,” Samukai said.

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