28 September 2005

Ghana: Forest Guards in Danger

Sunyani — Illegal chainsaw operators in the Brong Ahafo region, have adopted a new technique of entering reserves in the region to steal timber.

The new double-edged technique, known as "Monitoring and Enter" and "Operation Shootout," involves monitoring the movements of the Forest Officers by the illegal operators and also preparing themselves to shoot and kill any forest officer or their agent(s) when they come face to face with them in the reserves.

It has been established that these illegal operators operate only nocturnally.

The Chronicle investigations revealed that these illegal operators have acquired sophisticated weapons and communication gadgets such as mobile phones to facilitate their operations.

Our investigations revealed that the illegal operators have employed the services of informants, just as the Forest Commission (FC) have theirs, to report the absence of forest officers to them.

Speaking on the rampant theft of various species of timber in the Paamu-Berekum Forest Reserve, which falls within the Dormaa traditional area, in an interview with The Chronicle, the Dormaa District Forest Officer, Mr. Dong Martin said the illegal activities in the reserve had been a long-standing issue, but had peaked lately.

He disclosed that the operators have formed many gangs and also adopted a system that always beats the imagination of the commission.

Martin, who was answering queries from The Chronicle over reports that he and the Regional Manager of the Forest Services Division (FSD) in Brong Ahafo, Mr. Emmanuel Dogbe, had conspired and auctioned off some teak billets stolen by one Alhaji Dauda in Dormaa to the same person, denied that Dauda was the person who stole the teak.

He, however, said when that teak was intercepted, it was Dauda's equipment they used to haul them out from the bush and when it came to auctioning them, they decided to sell them to him.

He explained that auctioning of timber in his district was an open-door policy to any member of the public and not Dauda alone.

Martin continued that stealing of timber in the Paamu-Berekum reserve was beyond the control of he and his two forest rangers, because the illegal gangs outnumbered them.

He therefore called for an increase in the number of the rangers to ensure sanity in the forest reserves.

The District Forest Officer hinted that the illegal chainsaw operators have their telephone numbers and use them to monitor their movements, adding "if they called and realized that you are not there, they then move straight to the reserve to do their own thing."

He lamented that because of the superior weapons the illegal operators use, the rangers sometimes hesitated to approach them.

"Following the limited number of the rangers, the FSD, in collaboration with the Dormaa Traditional Council and the District Assembly, has formed a task force to monitor and give them information relating to any illegal operations."

Meanwhile, on Alhaji Dauda's issue, Martin explained that Dauda took an outside forest reserve permit and this allowed him to buy teak from individual farmers outside the reserve.

He told the paper that early this year, his office had information that some teak billets were seen in the reserve and when his men went there, they found out that it was true.

According to him, at that time, they needed some machines to cut the teak and the only machines they laid hands on were Dauda's.

"So when the regional office approved auctioning of the teak, Dauda tendered his application and we decided to sell them to him. Such business IS genuine," he said.

When the regional manager, Mr. Dogbe was contacted, he denied knowing anything about the sale, saying since he was not handling teak, he would not be in the position to know anything about the auction.

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