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Gov’t defends arrests of illegal miners at Kaieteur National Park

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The Government believes a strong message needs to be sent to those persons who repeatedly break the laws governing the country’s Protected Areas. It was at the time referring to the recent joint services operation at the Kaieteur National Park (KNP) where a total of 21 persons were arrested.

The citizens, who are mainly Amerindians from the nearby village of Chenapou, were arrested on Sunday (May 28, 2017) by members of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) after 20 illegal mining camps were discovered through aerial reconnaissance.

The operation was launched in collaboration with the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) and the Protected Areas Commission (PAC), following an initial discovery of four active mines, one mine where activity was uncertain, and eight active camps inside the KNP on February 16, 2017, the Government said.

Aerial shots showing the presence of the mining camps and operations in the Kaieteur National Park

It was disclosed that of the five mines, three had already been issued cease orders by the GGMC in 2014 with reinforcement actions as recent as 2016. Despite this and two site visits by the GGMC, following the issuance of the cease orders, at least two of the three mines remained active.

A further reconnaissance by the GDF on May 5, 2017, less than three weeks ago, revealed that there were, at that time, 20 camps. At one site, there was evidence of water pollution and freshly exposed sand tailings according to a report from the PAC.

Commissioner of the PAC, Ms. Denise Fraser, said “in some areas where miners have been previously moved, they have gone back. So there is a need for strong actions so that a message can be sent.”

She noted that in 2013, “five cease orders were issued by the GGMC to mining operators of mines within the Waratuk area, north-eastern boundary of the Park boundary. There were two site visits conducted by PAC and GGMC on August 10, 2014, where three mines and four camps were observed within the extreme north and north-eastern boundary of the park. This led to the issuance of three cease orders by the GGMC. In March 2016, two flyovers were conducted by PAC and GGMC, which indicated that the mining had continued to persist within the Park boundaries. This led to the GGMC enforcement, which resulted in the seizure of 11 engines, eight dredges and an excavator.”

Sunday’s raid saw five camps were searched and the persons present detained.

It is reported that the dredge owners were not present during the time of the raid.

Remaining residents of the Village on Monday (May 29, 2017) hosted a protest calling for the release of their relatives. They noted that the land is theirs and their livelihood.

Ms. Fraser has assured that the 21 persons have access to food and are taken care of while in custody. She noted that once released; the PAC will work with the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs to provide accommodation, where necessary.

Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman, related that only last year six operators were removed from the area.

“Last year, we sent a team in, and it was during that exercise that we even lost a member of the Guyana Police Force after the boat he was travelling capsized and yet we have persons returning to the Park and mining. The Government must, therefore, send a strong message to the individuals because it is a national protected area and part of our national patrimony,” Minister Trotman said.

Director of the Department of Environment, Ms. Ndibi Schwiers, said that the KNP is Guyana’s oldest protected area, famed for the world-renowned Kaieteur Falls and its rich biodiversity. She pointed out that illegal mining can have debilitating effects on the economic and social well-being of the country as it is way more destructive to the environment than permitted mining, as these unregulated miners are more ruthless in their operations.

“There is indiscriminate cutting of trees, which results in the loss of habitat and habitat fragmentation for the wildlife that inhabits the area. Specifically, birds and other wildlife that depend on the trees for their food, shelter and other forms of survival perish. Illegal mining in the Kaieteur National Park also presents a plethora of problems for downstream communities that depend on the water for drinking and other purposes through pollution of the water and unregulated use of chemicals to extract minerals,” she said.

According to Section Four of the Kaieteur National Park Act, a person found interfering with any aspect of the park shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine of $97,500, “and anything taken by such person from the park shall be forfeited.”

Further, Section 122 of the Protected Areas Act 2011 states that “Any person, except persons under the Amerindian Act, who mines, quarries, drills or removes any minerals, stone, gravel, earth, sand, or other substances or prospects for such substance in a national protected area commits an offence under paragraph (a) of the Fourth Schedule.”

The Fourth Schedule (a) states “A fine of not less than ten thousand dollars nor more than fifty thousand dollars and (f) a fine of not less than five hundred thousand dollars nor more than two million dollars and one hundred thousand dollars per day for continuance of activity with imprisonment for five years for repeating activity after the second instance.”

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