Chenapau miners released from Police custody
– charged with illegal mining at KNPDetained in clampdownBY LAKHRAM BHAGIRATThe remaining 18 Chenapau, Region Eight (Potaro-Siparuni), residents in Police custody were released on Tuesday and are expected to make an appearance at the Mahdia Magistrate’s Court on July 18, to answer to the charge of illegal mining in a protected area.Some of the miners released on Tuesday, inclusive of the two women and toddler who were released on Monday (Carl Croker photo)The 18 males released are Calixtus Francis, 47; Kenvil Cyril, 18; Donald Andrew, 48; Aladin Sebastian, 29; Garlon Andrew, 32; Clifford Andrew, 30; Leroy Fraser, 29; Collin Francisco, 27; Phillip Andrew, 18; Rudolph Bobb-Semple, 37; Franklin George, 38; Carlton Lewis, 40; Jason Baptiste, 30; Cecil Baptiste, 56; Bryan Mason, 31; Tomson Edwards, 17; Mark Andrew, 26; and Clive Edwards, 20.The two females; Carrol Williams, 22, and Sabrina Dos Santos, 26, along with two-year-old Naziel Williams were released late Monday night.The miners are adamant they were mining on legal claims and not in the Kaieteur National Park (KNP) as stated by the Government.At about noon last Saturday, officers from the Guyana Police Force, the Guyana Defence Force and the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) rounded up some 21 persons who allegedly were mining in the Kaieteur National Park, a designated no-mining zone that is protected under the laws of Guyana.They were taken into custody, and were forced to spend Saturday night in the backdam before being brought out to Georgetown on Sunday evening. The raid was ordered by President David Granger.No clear channel of informationAll the men chided the authorities for their lack of information. They noted that during the time in custody at the Police Criminal Investigations Department (CID) at Eve Leary, in Georgetown, they were not afforded any information. The men said they were forced to sit down for approximately 48 hours without even being afforded a shower or a change of clothes.Following his release, Cecil Baptiste, told Guyana Times that he, along with four other persons were rounded up and instructed not to move. “I was till down in the Kurupung area in my camp and they told me that they were given a presidential order to get everybody out off the Park. Not everybody was working but we were moving and going into our location where I have my claims and my other camp ground and then we had to leave everything there and we had to come out,” he related. The distraught man said he is unaware of the state of his equipment since they were forced to leave all of that behind. He said he has been mining since 1978 and this is the first time he has encountered such a situation. Baptiste related that they are yet to be told why they were held and brought to Georgetown.“The Police only took our names, addresses, age and that’s all they took. We were sitting there (at CID Headquarters) all the time. One time I saw three GGMC officers came in and (a senior Police rank) told us that we have to wait until the GGMC officials come again,” Baptiste revealed.Another one of the detained men, Rudolph Bobb-Semple, related that he along with another miner was on the tail heading back to the village when they were apprehended by soldiers around 09:00h on Saturday morning.“When the soldiers them catch we, I was 45 minutes away from Kaieteur Landing and the soldier turn we back because they said that they got order from the Government and they round up everybody working and then they ship we out with boats and then they say that we will talk to the GGMC officers,” he said.He added that when they arrived at Eve Leary, they were again asked for their names and addresses and then they were informed that they were mining illegally in the Kaieteur National Park. This, however, he denies, noting that his employer, Charlie Layne, owns 13 mining claims in the area.“The person who took me in there to work with them, they have 13 claims which they pay for from GGMC. Now if the claim is not valid then why GGMC collect the money for the claim…. that is not right. All the other (miners held) had claim and so, and now we get summons for working in Kaieteur National Park and I don’t think that is right,” Bobb-Semple lamented.“We were not mining. We were prospecting when we met up with the soldiers halfway up the trail and they brought us back to the boat landing and we had to sleep the night there, choke up under some old tarpaulin. They had some heavy guns, all corner, any move you make is a big gun just moving around. The soldiers told me that we have to go back with them and that they are not allowing anybody to leave,” another miner Calixtus Francis complained.Government’s responseSection Four of the Kaieteur National Park Act states, “It shall not be lawful for any person to enter into, travel or encamp within the Park or to build any structure therein, or to hunt, chase, catch, shoot at, kill or otherwise disturb any animal or cut, pluck or gather any of the flora or interfere with or disturb the soil by mining or other operations within the Park or to remove anything whatsoever from the Park except in accordance with regulations made under this Act. (2) Any person acting in contravention of any of the provisions of subsection (1) shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine of ninety-seven thousand five hundred dollars, and anything taken by such person from the Park shall be forfeited.”Further, according to the regulations made under the Mining Act 2005, Part XXVII Section 251 (1) (a), “No person shall conduct mining and quarrying activities in the following areas- (b) In specified nature reserves and parks where resource extraction is prohibited; (c) In buffer areas without express approval of the Commission and the notification of parties likely to be affected by the activity.”Additionally, Section 122 of the Protected Areas Act 2011 states that “Any person, except persons under the Amerindian Act, who mines, quarries, drills or removes any minerals, stone, gravel, earth, sand, or other substances or prospects for such substance in a national protected area commits an offence under paragraph (a) of the Fourth Schedule.”The Fourth Schedule (a) states “A fine of not less than ten thousand dollars nor more than fifty thousand dollars and (f) a fine of not less than five hundred thousand dollars nor more than two million dollars and one hundred thousand dollars per day for continuance of activity with imprisonment for five years for repeating activity after the second instance.”Government warningThe Government in a statement said the operation stemmed from several sightings of illegal mining in the KNP. They noted that the miners were warned and ordered to cease all operations.However, the detained miners are contesting that they were never warned and that they were away from the boundaries of the KNP. They also used to opportunity to call on the Protected Areas Commission (PAC) to mark the boundaries of the Park to prevent any further misunderstanding.The Government, in an effort to verify its claims released aerial pictures to prove illegal mining in the KNP but the miners are saying that the pictures do not represent the area they were found in.“The treatment they have received has been every extreme… I would like to strongly believe that these guys are paying for something else; they’re paying for others, because the photographs in the media are not where they were, these guys were able to identify those photographs and they were far from the areas,” Chairperson of the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA), Laura George, said.“Ms (Denise) Fraser said that the PAC (Chairman) has been in contact with the Ministry of Natural Resources as well as the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs to ensure that the detainees have access to food and are taken care of while in custody. She noted that once released, the PAC will work with the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs to provide accommodation, where necessary,” the Government’s statement said.That statement did not go down well with George who became angry and called out the PAC for their misleading comment. She noted that they are yet to be contacted by the PAC and while in custody the detainees were afforded only one meal and that was provided by relatives and friends.The arrests sparked widespread protest in Chenapau Village and the Toshao, Edward McGarrell, along with other Councilors travelled to Georgetown on Tuesday hoping to meet with the President and Minister Trotman today.