Armed protesters entered a palm oil plantation in southeastern Liberia, taking several people hostage and injuring a senior government official, police officials and the company that owns the project said on Wednesday.
The violent demonstrations first broke out on Tuesday at a plantation in Sinoe County run by Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL), whose lead investor is Singapore-listed Golden Agri-Resources.
“The demonstrators, armed with cutlasses and other deadly instruments, attacked the GVL mess hall and looted several items causing other company workers to flee into nearby bushes for safety,” Liberian police said in a statement.
Deputy Internal Affairs Minister Varney Sirleaf, a nephew of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was visiting the plantation at the time. He and an Indonesian GVL employee were among those taken hostage.
Sirleaf was injured, police said without giving further details.
Both he and the Indonesian worker were later freed by Liberian police and personnel from the country’s U.N. peacekeeping mission, UNMIL.
“We are deeply concerned by the actions of a few individuals who have chosen to disregard the law and safety of our personnel and local residents in the area,” GVL said in a statement on Wednesday.
It was not immediately known what sparked the protests. But last month the Forest Peoples Programme, a group campaigning for the rights of indigenous peoples, accused GVL of taking land without community consent.
Under its 2010 concession agreement, Liberia’s government agreed to lease GVL 220,000 hectares of land over a period of 65 years to develop its palm oil operations.
GVL was not available late on Wednesday to respond to the allegations, but the company states on its website that it maintains close relationships with local communities to both create jobs and protect the environment.
“Our investment and land selection, conducted together with local communities, have and will carefully preserve original forest, bio-diverse areas, sacred and community lands,” its website reads.