26 February 2013

Ghana: 2 Naval Officers Drown...Chasing Illegal Miners

The issue of illegal gold miners, popularly referred to as "galamseyers", in parts of the country is not only having a negative effect on the environment, but turning out to be a violent and dangerous activity.

Last Saturday, two naval officers drowned in the Pra River at Sekyere Wusuta in the Western Region during a joint military and police operation to clamp down on illegal miners in the area.

The team, including the naval officers, was said to have been dispatched to effect the arrest of illegal miners in the area, whose activities were destroying the Pra River and other surrounding water bodies, when the boat in which they were traveling capsized.

The Pra River has over the years been the only source of drinking water for many communities along the river, but the activities of illegal mining has rendered the river unwholesome, and threatens the very survival of the river and other surrounding water bodies.

This latest incidence comes on the heels of a deadly attack on military and Forestry Commission officials who were inflicted with machete wounds by the miners, when the officers went there on an operation to flush them out.

Illegal mining in these areas have in recent times evolved into a more complex and notorious activity, as deadly weapons are fast becoming part of the efforts by miners to protect their concessions.

The influx of foreigners, mainly Chinese, into the illegal gold business seems to have worsened the issue, as these foreigners are able to afford equipment for the illegal activity.

These foreigners hire locals as labourers in their illegal activities, and protect their investments with sophisticated weapons. There are reported incidents where Chinese illegal miners have opened fire on natives of the land, who protest against the destructive effects of galamsey activities on the environment.

The government has, however, indicated its resolve to make safe and responsible mining a major pillar in the development of the country.

To this end, the government is instituting various reforms to ensure that the country moves towards economically and socially sustainable mining.

During his first State of the Nations Address, newly elected President John Dramani Mahama hinted that he had tasked the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources to ensure that mining in Ghana is done responsibly, and meets community needs and expectations.

".... Mining must create employment that matches its type, provide fair economic returns to the community, and protect the environment."

"As I recently announced, government will rigidly enforce the laws of Ghana by addressing the illegal invasion of foreigners in our small-scale mining sector.

"This problem has been fully investigated, and we have concluded that there is an unacceptable collusion between some Ghanaians and these foreigners to circumvent our laws."

He mentioned that a series of decisive measures were under way to purge the system and better regulate small-scale mining, in order to create and sustain employment for Ghanaians, primarily.

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