27 June 2012

Sierra Leone: Tension At Gola Forest, Five Villagers in Police Net

Five residents of Baoma Village in the Nomo Chiefdom, Kenema District who were alleged to have been involved in mining activities within the reserved Gola Forest, have been arrested by a team of national park forest guards during one of their usual forest patrols.

Since President Ernest Bai Koroma declared the Gola Forest as a national park, series of arrests have been made including poachers and miners from neighbouring Liberia who have been invading the territory for precious minerals and animals.

However, the recent arrest of some of the alleged miners from Baoma Village resulted in a serious battle in which stones and other missiles were pelted at the forest's security personnel.

An eyewitness, Pa Lahai Saffa, told Concord Times that when the security officials took the arrested persons to the town chief of Baoma, fellow miners who managed to escape being arrested at the forest allegedly mobilized a number of people to launch an attack on the forest guards which made the guards flee into the forest for fear of being hurt or killed.

According to Gola Forest Protected Area Manager, Alusine Fofanah, the forest guards were overpowered but later reassembled at Congohun Village where they discovered that three of their colleagues were missing.

"The Gola Forest management immediately informed the Kenema Police Station and six Operational Support Division (OSD) officers were dispatched to investigate the incident. As soon as the police officers arrived at Baoma, the people who had attacked the guards fled the town. The police however apprehended four youth as suspects," he said, adding that the four arrested youth and a local chief were taken to Kenema by the police for further questioning.

"The Gola Forest management considers this development as unfortunate especially with the comments made by Hon. Kallon of Constituency 19 regarding the matter. The town of Baoma was neither under the siege of the forest guards and police nor was it burnt down as claimed," Fofanah maintained.

While commissioning the forest as a national park, President Koroma said the government has always recognized the Gola Rainforest as one of the most important areas of primary forest remaining in Sierra Leone and worthy of protection.

He said the significance of the forest cannot be overemphasized as it has been identified as a biodiversity hotspot for its rich variety of plants and animals, including very rare species.

"Government therefore wishes all to know that it will not relent in its effort to honour its commitment of securing a sustainable environment for the citizens of Sierra Leone and to fulfill its international obligations. I am advising local communities to help protect not to destroy the forest. I want to reaffirm government's commitment that we will not allow mining in the reserve," he concluded.

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