Chenapau residents protest against arrests of alleged illegal miners in Kaieteur National Park

Another resident vented his frustration through this placard. (Photo courtesy of Edward McGarrell)

Residents of Chenapau Village, Region Eight yesterday protested Sunday afternoon’s arrest of almost two dozen persons – most of whom reside in Chenapau – during a covert raid of the Kaieteur National Park (KNP) against illegal mining.

The order for the raid was issued by President David Granger after recent aerial reconnaissance showed about 15 illegal operations in the KNP, a documented protected area where mining is strictly prohibited.

Those detained were subsequently flown to Georgetown and taken to the Criminal Investigations Department (CID). Reports reaching this newspaper indicate that among those detained were two women and a baby.

Stabroek News has since been informed that the two women and the baby were last evening released on their own recognizance but will have to return to CID this morning as investigations continue.

As regards the other detainees, it was explained that authorities at CID were awaiting a report from a Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) officer on the ground to determine the way forward.

Meanwhile, over 100 residents of Chenapau, old and young alike, yesterday staged a protest to voice their concerns while calling on the authorities to provide an update on the situation as it relates to their relatives.

Edward McGarrell, Toshao of Chenapau Village in an invited comment told Stabroek News that he did not believe those who were detained were mining at the time of the raid, as some were said to have just been passing through when they were arrested.

He argued that there is no clear boundary between the Kaieteur National Park and the village, which continues to pose a problem for those who are involved in mining operations as they were often unsure of the actual boundary. He stated that while there is a signboard that is often used as a boundary indicator, people who were mining two to three hours away from that signboard were still arrested.

Meanwhile, photos posted on the Toshao’s Facebook page showed residents, including several children dressed in their school uniforms holding placards which read, “President send our mommy and daddy back home,” and “Sad 51st anniversary under Granger Administration,” among other messages.

The Ministry of the Presidency in a statement issued last evening said the joint service operation in the KNP was launched as parts of continued efforts to clamp down on mining in Protected Areas.

It was explained that the Protected Areas Commission (PAC) and the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) had discovered, through aerial reconnaissance, 20 illegal mining camps.

As a result of the discovery, members of the joint services as well as personnel from the GGMC launched the operation; this had reportedly followed an initial discovery of four active mines, one mine where activity was uncertain, and eight active camps inside the KNP by the PAC on February 16, 2017

“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 still remained active,” the statement said.

Nonetheless, 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 the PAC had said in its preliminary report.

According to the press release, Commissioner of the PAC Denise Fraser said illegal mining in the area has been taking place for a number of years despite repeated warnings. Predating the above mentioned cease orders there had been efforts in 2013 to end mining activity in the KNP.

“What we have found is that 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. 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 in 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,” Fraser was quoted as saying.

The release said that as a result of the raid on Sunday, five camps were searched and the persons present detained. It was reported that the dredge owners were not present at the time of the raid.

It was further noted that a total of 21 persons were detained by the police in relation to illegal mining in the KNP.

Nonetheless, Fraser said the PAC has been in contact with the Ministry of Natural Resources as well as the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs to ensure that the detainees have access to food and are taken care of while in custody, according to the release.  She stated 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, having acknowledged the KNP as a national protected area said it was incumbent on the government to send a strong message to those who are bent on breaking the law.

“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,” he was quoted as saying.

The statement also quoted Section Four of the Kaieteur National Park Act which states, “It shall not be lawful for any person to enter into, travel or encamp within the park or to build any structure therein, or to hunt, chase, catch, shoot at, kill or otherwise disturb any animal or cut, pluck or gather any of the flora or interfere with or disturb the soil by mining or other operations within the park or to remove anything whatsoever from the park except in accordance with regulations made under this act.

“Any person acting in contravention of any of the provisions of subsection (1) shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine of ninety-seven thousand five hundred dollars, and anything taken by such person from the park shall be forfeited.”

Further, according to the regulations made under the Mining Act 2005, Part XXVII Section 251 (1) (a), “No person shall conduct mining and quarrying activities in the following areas- (b) In specified nature reserves and parks where resource extraction is prohibited; (c) In buffer areas without express approval of the commission and the notification of parties likely to be affected by the activity.”

Similarly, Section 122 of the Protected Areas Act 2011 states, “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.”

This being said, it was noted that according to the Fourth Schedule (a) of the Act constitutes that 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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