More illegal camps unearthed at protected Iwokrama Forest

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The Iwokrama Protected Area has constantly been confronted with acts of illegal gold mining and recently, several new camps were uncovered during a monitoring exercise.

Over the past week, the workers joined the Corps of Wardens under the Natural Resources Ministry, Guyana Geology and Mines Commission, Guyana Forestry Commission and Guyana Police Force to carry out an enforcement exercise in the Iwokrama Forest and buffer zone area, along the Siparuni River. Illegal camps were found and destroyed.

“Yet again, several camps and a shop continued to be in breach of the law, being located within or near the one kilometer buffer zone area, on the other side of the Siparuni River, even though they were told repeatedly to remove from this zone by the regulatory agencies previously. On this occasion, these camps were removed with some assistance.”

In a statement, the agency said illegal mining incursions in the protected area has been an issue since 2019 but became measurably worst in 2020 during the COVID restriction period when their monitoring capacity reduced.

Sometime in September 2019, a miner was arrested for illegally mining in the Iwokrama Forest and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had indicated that this individual should be charged and brought before the court under the Iwokrama Act.

Fast-forward to October 2020, the inter-agency team found itself targeted by gunfire from miners who quickly scampered away into the forest during an impromptu surveillance exercise. One arrest was made and the son of a prominent businessman in the North Rupununi area is now before the court and this case is ongoing.

As a result of the constant challenges faced in keeping illegal miners out, the Centre has reminded the public and other stakeholders that these activities are not allowed in the Iwokrama Forest unless the Centre gives express written permission for any of these activities to be undertaken.

Specifically, Section Two of the Control of the Programme Site clause of the Iwokrama Act states: “Subject to Section 6 (1), and notwithstanding anything in any other written law – no mining, forestry or other resources utilisation activity shall be carried out on the Programme Site by any person other than the Centre, except with the prior written permission of the Centre.”

The document further states, “No lease of land or permission to use land in the Programme Site shall be issued by any person other than the Centre, and all activities on the Programme Site shall be in accordance with regulations prescribed therefor under this Act.”

Section Three outlines the penalties, which clearly identify that any person who contravenes the provisions of subsection (2) shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine of $100,000 or imprisonment for a period of one year, and where the offence is of a continuing nature, to a further fine not exceeding $25,000 for each day during which the offence continues after conviction.

Iwokrama and the Government of Guyana have expended enough time and resources on education and awareness with regard to these illegal activities, as such, Iwokrama Management is continuing its zero-tolerance approach to these activities, especially gold mining and other illegal activities.

“In keeping with the mandate of Iwokrama, the Centre’s monitoring team together with the regulatory institutions in Guyana, will increase monitoring and targeted enforcement activities within the environs of the Iwokrama Forest. Further, the Centre will also be rigidly enforcing the prescribed penalties under the Iwokrama Act and other laws of Guyana to any person(s) found illegally operating in the Iwokrama Forest,” the Center positioned.

Meanwhile, a reward is still offered for any information leading to the arrest and successful prosecution of persons involved in illegal activities in the Iwokrama Forest.