The charges which were instituted against 20 persons for conducting illegal mining
activities in the Kaieteur National park have been dropped. This is according to a statement from the Ministry of Natural Resources yesterday.
The decision to drop the charges was made following meetings with Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman, Ministry officials and representatives of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC).
According to the statement, “It has been decided that as an act of good faith Government will not prosecute the charges against the more than 20 persons arrested on Sunday May 28, 2017 for mining within the iconic Kaieteur National Park.”
Those arrested are residents of the Chenapau village, a neighbouring community of the Kaieteur National Park. Toshao of the Amerindian village, Edward McGarrell, on June 1 had met with Minister Trotman along with villagers and representatives of the National Toshao’s Council.
Following this meeting, Trotman had assured that concerns raised will be discussed with President David Granger.
It is the position of the Government of Guyana that any person caught mining in a Protected Area will be arrested. Government’s position was explicitly stated during the post Cabinet press conference yesterday at the Ministry of the Presidency hosted by Minister of State, Joseph Harmon.
When asked about the crackdown operation over the weekend, Harmon said that mining is an activity that is not permitted under the law in that area. He said that the Kaieteur National Park is a Protected Area and forms part of the protected areas system of Guyana.
He said that there are other sustainable forms of livelihood which are permitted but clearly mining and extractive activities are not contemplated within a Protected Area. As such, the Minister said that once people go into the area and they mine in the area, it is a responsibility of the state to ensure that they are removed.
He said that the recent operation has been the second of its kind while the A Partnership for National Unity and Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) has been in government. Harmon related that in the last operation, a policeman had lost his life.
He explained that the recent operation was due to mining in the area becoming more extensive and therefore persons that were mining there illegally were subject to the laws of Guyana.
The Minister of State reported that the important thing to note is that the persons found in the area were not the managers or owners of the dredges. “I am making a public call for those dredge owners to come into us, come into us and let us talk to you because clearly that is not a way to go.”
He urged that if there is an issue with mining areas, this needs to be discussed with the GGMC. However, persons should not go into protected areas and mine. “That is unlawful and so it is unfortunate that these residents of the area surrounding the Kaieteur National Park that they were the ones arrested and brought out. There is no exception. Once you are caught mining in those areas you will be arrested and that is the position of the government.”
Harmon said that the Kaieteur National Park is a Protected Area which Guyana is proud of and which the country is known for internationally. He said that in 2011, the Protected Areas Commission Bill subsequently became an Act and since then the area was clearly demarcated.
Meanwhile, Leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo, during a press conference at his office yesterday criticised Government’s move to arrest the individuals. He said that during his party’s tenure in Office they had dealt with the issue of illegal mining in the area without taking ‘draconian’ measures against residents of Chenapau, the village near to the Kaieteur National Park.
Jagdeo said that it was established under his administration that residents in the area have a right to use the area since it was recognised that they have a right of passage through the park.
He added that it was further recognised that the Amerindians have a right to use the area for fishing, gathering and hunting in a subsistent manner not for commercial purposes. Jagdeo said that the integrity of the Kaieteur National Park can be protected without arresting people.
The operation on Sunday was a follow-up activity from a reconnaissance which was conducted by the Guyana Defence Force on May 5, 2017 which had revealed 20 illegal mining camps in the area.
At one camp, the Ministry of Natural Resources said that there was evidence of water pollution and freshly exposed sand tailings according to a report from the Protected Areas Commission.
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