After days of questions about its role in the Kaieteur National Park (KNP) and the detention of a journalist, the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) yesterday issued a statement saying that 26 dredges had been found in the protected area and it said it is constitutionally obligated to support the maintenance of law and order.
“The Guyana Defence Force wishes to make it pellucid that it is committed to supporting the efforts of the Protected Areas Commission and the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) in their efforts to purge the Kaieteur National Park of illegal mining
“The recent Joint Services Exercise, Operation Midas, revealed the extent of the environmental degradation plaguing the Park due to widespread illegal mining activities occurring within the boundaries of the protected area of the Park. The operation unearthed some 26 engines (dredges) among other pieces of mining equipment and environmental pollutants such as Mercury, Waste Oil and Silicone, which were being used indiscriminately by the illegal miners,” it further stated.
Operation Midas raises questions about why the GGMC and the Protected Areas Commission (PAC) weren’t in a better position to conduct enforcement operations in the area, two years after this government took office.
As a result of its operations in the KNP, the GDF said it has made recommendations to the PAC for the erection of billboards to sensitise the public and visitors on the delineation of the Park and prohibited conduct. Residents of the nearby village of Chenapau has also complained about poor delineation of the KNP and some had argued that they may have strayed into areas of the KNP without knowing.
The GDF is also recommending improved monitoring of all aircraft landing at the location and the scrutiny of any accompanying cargo; the prosecution of all registered dredge owners whose equipment was seized by GGMC, the rehabilitation of all waterways that were deliberately diverted by the illegal miners and the temporary suspension of mining licences for those registered dredge owners.
These recommendations could engender concerns as they show an increasingly assertive GDF as it relates to civilian matters. It is unclear if the GDF was asked by the government or the PAC to put forward recommendations.
The GDF added that it is “constitutionally obligated to support the maintenance of law and order and therefore, remains resolute in its stance of supporting our Nation’s efforts in eradicating illegal mining at the Kaieteur National Park and the preservation of its environment. To this end, frequent surveillance will continue over this and other such protected areas”.
Just over two weeks ago President David Granger ordered the Guyana Defence Force, the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission and the Guyana Police Force to commence an operation to combat illegal mining in the protected park.
During the operation, 21 residents of Chenapau Village, Region Eight were arrested on allegations of having participated in illegal mining within the KNP.
This resulted in them being flown to Georgetown where they were charged and issued with summonses to attend court in Mahdia to answer the charges. Shortly after this however, the government announced that as an “act of goodwill” the charges against the residents would be dropped.
Nonetheless, those previously arrested, along with the Chenapau Village Council have vehemently denied mining in the KNP, adding that though they do engage in subsistence mining, their camps are located way out of the KNP boundary.
Meanwhile, news agency Capitol News might consider taking legal action against the GDF for what it deemed to be the “wrongful detention” of its cameraman Rudy Morris in the KNP over the weekend.
Morris and former Chenapau Village Toshao, Anthony Melville were detained by members of the GDF last Sunday at Muri Muri, where they had travelled to acquire video footage of the Kaieteur National Park signboard – which is acknowledged by residents of the area as the boundary of the Park; they were released on Monday and both have since returned to the city.
Capitol News official Royston Drakes in an invited comment told Stabroek News that the news agency has since engaged the services of their lawyer, and the possibility exists that legal action could be taken against the GDF on the grounds that Morris was wrongfully detained.
“My understanding is that the army does not have the power to detain anyone, but I am not too clear on whether or not the area was designated as the military zone but based on what we saw in one of the videos captured by Morris, and what was related by the camera man and Melville we believe the situation could have been handled in a better manner; We were trying all the time to settle this issue with the GDF in an amicable way, but we now realize that there was some breakdown on the part of the GDF,” Drakes said.
Footage captured by Morris and seen by this newspaper shows Melville and the cameraman being summoned back to the landing from which they had reportedly just departed by two men, one of whom was armed with a rifle. While it was explained that the two men were members of the GDF, they were not attired in their standard army issue uniform when the footage was taken.
Questions of whether the GDF had any authority to detain the men continue to go unanswered, as attempts to solicit a comment from the GDF and the PAC as it relates to the “on-going operation” in the KNP and the role of the GDF were unsuccessful.
A visit to the GDF’s Camp Ayanganna base yesterday afternoon was met with a directive given by the Army’s Public Affairs Officer, Major Earl Edghill to speak with the PAC on the matter.
It must be noted that previous calls made to PAC to speak with Commissioner Denise Fraser were met with another directive by PAC personnel, to forward the questions to the commissioner via email.
Fraser, in her response to the email thanked Stabroek News for its questions and said, “This is a very busy time with a number of urgent matters to be addressed but I will respond to you as soon as possible.”
Another email sent on Tuesday afternoon with additional questions for the Commissioner, is also still awaiting a response.
A visit was also made to the PAC Office in the National Park yesterday afternoon in hopes of speaking with Fraser. However, this effort too was unsuccessful, as Stabroek News was informed that the Commissioner would be unable to have any discourse since she was preparing to leave for a meeting.