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Luncheon, Retired GDF Chief differ on mining in New River Triangle

Retired Chief of Staff of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), Major General Joseph Singh and Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr. Roger Luncheon are at odds over government previous policy on mining activities in the New River Triangle.

Luncheon earlier this week recalled that then President Bharrat Jagdeo had begun pushing for the opening up of the area for mining. “At that time, the President had a strong position that was not consistent with others in the Cabinet but we are an advisory body, as you recall, and therefore the President’s view held sway,” he said.

The former military chief , however, had a different recollection of President Jagdeo’s position on mineral exploitation in the area. “With specific reference to the New River Triangle, then President Jagdeo had vetoed any natural resources extractive activities in that area.

His decision, I am informed, was based on the fact that given the exploitation of natural resources in the rest of Guyana, the New River Triangle is the only area where the integrity of eco-systems and biodiversity could be preserved and bequeathed to future generations,” said Singh who retired in 2000.

But a source very close to Jagdeo told Demerara Waves Online News (www.demwaves.com ) differed, saying that that the former Guyanese leader had always maintained that the New River Triangle is sovereign Guyanese territory. The source said Jagdeo had vetoed a proposal for rare earth minerals because of pollution that accompanies such activity. At that time, Jagdeo had believed that rare earth minerals was not viable.

The source said Jagdeo has always maintained that the New River Triangle belongs to Guyana and we should do whatever we want with it. “He (Jagdeo) believes that that the New River Triangle is sovereign Guyanese territory and as such any government has the right and responsibility to issue mining leases, mining permits, build houses and whatever they feel,” said the source.

Again contrary to Luncheon, the Retired Major General stated that it was customary for the military to be involved in decision-making concerning mining and forestry countrywide. “As an aspect of its operational contingency planning, the GDF has an obligation to advise the Defence Board as to the security implications of infra-structure development and extractive activities in any part of Guyana,” said Singh.

Retired Lieutenant Colonel, Joseph Harmon- now a parliamentarian for the opposition coalition A Partnership for National Unity (APNU)- has cautioned against the military having to seek permission from private interests to gain access to areas during military operations.

Luncheon has ruled out the possibility of objections and refusals by the military playing a role in civilian policy making on which areas should be earmarked for extractive activities.

He, nevertheless, acknowledged that it is the government, not the GDF, which determines whether or not extractive activities will be permitted.

At the centre of this debate is Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment, Robert Persaud’s granting of a Permission for Geographical and Geophysical Survey (PGGS) to a Guyanese-owned company, Muri Brasil, to be carried out with the expectation that it could eventually be given the green light to mine for rare earth minerals, bauxite and gold.