9 January 2014

Liberia: Illicit Gold Rush - Chinese, Others Mine Cestos River

Cestos — Liberia is rich in natural mineral resources, but ironically counties with these resources are amongst the poorest lacking basic social services with citizens living in destitution, yet these resources are extracted with little or no benefit to the people.

The gold rich Rivercess County can perhaps be graded as one of the poorest counties in Liberia as the capital, Cestos is no different from an ancient settlement with several primitive houses and makeshift structures interesting the county has become a place for illicit mining.

The massive search for gold is leading Liberians and other foreign nationals, including Chinese to look everywhere in one of Liberia's poorest counties, digging for the minerals mainly gold and diamond in rivers and other creeks across the county.

"The amount of gold and diamond that is taken from our river on a daily basis, can improve our lives and make us better, but instead it is making outsiders rich while we the citizens remain in abject poverty," says David Garway, a 12 grade student at the Cestos High School.

The alarming situation of illicit gold mining by Chinese and other foreign nationals, taking place in the Cestos River, ITI Rivercess County, is on a massive scale and has claimed the attention of Garway and other citizens' of the County.

During a recent visit to the County, it was observed that just a few meters away from the Liberian National Police stations in ITI, the foreign Miners, using water machines and canoes were mining gold and diamond from the river. Risky Business

The rush for gold has led gold thirsty individuals to use risky means in search of the valuable mineral.

Miners were seen diving in search of minerals, a method of mining that has recently claimed the lives of some miners in Nimba and Sinoe counties, but yet still; miners on the Cestos River are using this method ignoring the risk associated with such a process.

Some miners dive as deep as 30 feet beneath the river, while others await the divers in a canoe over the river to receive the gravels and sand which is in turn washed to extract the minerals.

The duration of the stay of miners under the river to collect sand and gravel has proven in the past to be a death trap as miners have died under such circumstances.

Chinese Using Machines to mine

Across the Cestos River, the Chinese have a very huge machine mounted on top of the river, which is being used in extracting huge quantities of gold and diamond from the river, residents told this reporter.

Through their interpreter, the Chinese told our reporter that since they mounted the machine on the river, they are yet to find any gold or diamond, but a local Liberian miner disagrees with the Chinese assertion.

"Do you believe that those Chinese people have not found any minerals with that big machine they have, when we who are using canoes and water machines are getting gold daily, then what about them" Moses Bryant, a local miner inquired.

The Chinese, through an interpreter also disclosed that they are working for a Liberian, Lucy Belleh, who they claimed is licensed by the Ministry of Land Mines and Energy to mine gold in the river.

A man claiming to be Madam Lucy Belleh's agent said his boss has a 'Class C' mining license. He provided an identification card bearing a female photo with the name 'Lucy Belleh' to our reporter, but it was observed that the ID expired since July 13, 2013 and that it was issued for Margibi County instead of Rivercess.

During separate interviews with the miners they denied allegation of working illegally, explaining that each miner pays L$1,500 worth of gold daily to Madam Belleh for mining in her claim.

Accordingly, gold is collected at the end of each working day. A mobile phone number provided for Madam Belleh was switched off when contacted.

Shifting blames

Rivercess County Superintendent Gevon Smith via mobile said he is not aware of the situation, blaming the Ministry of Lands, mines and Energy for the unfolding situation, of illicit mining in the county.

Says Superintendent Smith: "The Ministry of Lands and Mines is just giving license to anybody to mine, so who do you hold responsible?"

Superintendent Smith, who was out of the county at the time of this our visit, told FPA that he was meeting one of the Deputy Ministers responsible for mining on the issue and was going to get back to our reporter but could not do so up to his departure for RiverCess. "RiverCess is one of the richest counties in Liberia in terms of natural resources, but one of the poorest in terms of government intervention, says Dallas A. Gueh, Rivercess County Junior Senator.

Senator Gueh insists "This country has the natural resources that can help you and me to live like 21st century citizens in the world, and not be living in a stone aged era". Machine Miners are violators

The Ministry of Land Mines and Energy has disclosed that Grade C or Class C mining license holder is a violator when such person uses a machine to mine. The Ministry says the mining on the Cestos River is illegal and will be investigated.

"Class C license is restricted to local Liberians who do not use big machines to mine, but outside of that, the Ministry of Lands and mines would not condone such illicit mining," says Fahnseth B. Mulbah, Inspector General for Mines.

Explaining the classes of mining licenses, Mulbah said Grade A or Class A license is mechanized mining that is associated with big companies like Arcelormittal and permits the use of bigger machines like bull dozers, dredges and other mining equipment which are allowed to be used.

While Class B or Grade B License, Inspector Mulbah said is Semi merchandise mining and also permits the use of equipment but it should include some level Liberians participation.

He concluded that only local Liberians can hold class C or Grade C license and are not allowed to use equipment like dredges to mine, which is illegal and considered illicit mining.

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