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Iwokrama revives stricter enforcement against gold mining

Last Updated on Saturday, 6 March 2021, 8:18 by Denis Chabrol

An illegal shop in the buffer zone being dismantled

The Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation has again begun strictly enforcing the laws against gold mining in the almost 1 million acre reserve, after a lull due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Iwokrama Management is continuing its zero-tolerance approach to these activities, especially gold mining and other illegal activities,” the organisation said.

In keeping with the mandate of Iwokrama, the Centre said its monitoring team, together with the regulatory institutions in Guyana, would increase monitoring and targeted enforcement activities within the environs of the Iwokrama Forest.

The almost 30-year old Centre warned that it would be “rigidly enforcing the prescribed penalties” under the Iwokrama Act and other laws of Guyana to any person found illegally operating in the Iwokrama Forest. The Iwokrama Act provides for a GYD$100,000 fine or one year imprisonment and a further fine of GYD$25,000 for each day during which the offence continues after conviction.

The Centre said it would continue to offer a reward for any information leading to the arrest and successful prosecution of persons involved in illegal activities in the Iwokrama Forest. The Centre added that it would also be following up on information it received on specific mining operators within the Iwokrama Forest. Any convictions will be fully publicized.

For further information on the management of the Iwokrama Forest and to report any illegal activities in the forest, please contact ONLY Dr Raquel Thomas, Director Resource Management on [email protected] More information on the Centre’s work is available on www.iwokrama.org ,  www.iwokramariverlodge.com and www.iwokramacanopywalkway.com

The Centre  again reminded the public and other stakeholders that those activities are not allowed in the Iwokrama Forest, unless the Centre gives express written permission for any of these activities to be undertaken.

An illegal temporary mining  camp found in the Iwokrama Forest

The Iwokrama Act states that notwithstanding anything in any other written law no mining, forestry or other resources utilisation activity shall be carried out on the Programme Site by any person other than the Centre, except with the prior written permission of the Centre; and  no lease of land or permission to use land in the Programme Site shall be issued by any person other than the Centre, and all activities on the Programme Site shall be in accordance with regulations prescribed therefor under this Act.

The not-for-profit organisation said at one stage there were fewer enforcement personnel due to the disease that has to date afflicted 8,729 persons and killed 200 since March, 2020.  8,099 have recovered, according to latest official statistics.

“Iwokrama has been faced with ongoing illegal gold mining incursions in the Iwokrama Protected Area since April 2019 and which got measurably worst in 2020 during the COVID restriction period. This witnessed a reduction in monitoring capacity, as such small dug pits escalated to felling of trees and use of small dredges to extract the gold hence creating huge gaps,” the organisation said in a statement.

However, the Centre said it has resumed stricter enforcement, with the  Centre’s staff together being joined by teams from the Corps of Wardens under the Ministry of Natural Resources, Guyana Geology and Mines, Guyana Forestry Commission and Guyana Police Force. The organisation said last week those agencies carried out a monitoring and enforcement exercise in the Iwokrama Forest and buffer zone area, along the Siparuni River.

“Yet again, several camps and a shop continued to be in breach of the law, being located within or near the one Kilometer buffer zone area, on the other side of the Siparuni River,  even though they were told repeatedly to remove from this zone by the regulatory agencies previously. On this occasion, these camps were removed with some assistance,” the Centre said.

In September 2019, a miner, was arrested for illegally mining in the Iwokrama forest and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had indicated that this individual should be charged and brought before the court under the Iwokrama Act.

The Iwokrama International Centre recalled that in October 2020, in a surprise operation, the inter-agency team team found itself targeted by gun fire from miners who quickly scampered away into the forest.  One arrest was made and, the son of a prominent businessman in the North Rupununi area is now before the Court and this case is ongoing.

The Centre notes that it and the Guyana government have spent a lot of time and resources on education and awareness with regard to these illegal activities.

Iwokrama acknowledges that collaboration by the five agencies is the only way to target such illegal activities and are grateful for the continued support from the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Guyana Police Force. The Deputy Permanent Secretary of the said Ministry along with Deputy Commissioner of the Guyana Forestry Commission were present on this last exercise  and got a first-hand look at the damage caused within the Iwokrama Forest and also the continued unlawful occupation within the buffer zone.