On Wednesday May 19, Minister of Defence, Mr Dominic Nitiwul disclosed that, members of the “Operation Halt” were able to retrieve about 700 excavators from the Atewa forest reserve alone, within 24 hours of storming the area.

Located in Ghana’s Eastern Region, Atewa Forest forms part of the threatened Upper Guinea Forest, one of the world’s global biodiversity hotpots. Atewa Forest is a Protected Forest Reserve, a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA), and meets the conditions for Alliance for Zero Extinction status.

The forest is also the source for the Birim, Densu and Ayensu rivers, which provide water for some 5 million people, including residents of the capital, Accra. With a huge gold and bauxite deposit, illegal miners have in recent times invaded the forest destroying the rich resources including the water bodies.

The Minister said “Three days ago, the Armed Forces decided to count the machine that was leaving the Birim area or what we called the Atewa forest and in a day, they counted 700. As journalist, take a ride on the Kumasi-Accra Highway and see the number of excavators that have been parked by the roadside and you will know the impact that this operation is making”, he said.

In this report, Ghenvironment.org is Fact-checking some of the claims made by the Defence Minister and presents the following verdicts and explanations.

Claim 1

Birim Area is also called the Atewa forest

Verdict: False

Explanation: The Atewa forest is not the same as the Birim area. The Birim is the river that flows from the Atewa forest and even though a lot of illegal mining activities are dotted around the river tributaries, it is not the same as the Atewa Forest as the Minister claimed at his press conference.

In the Eastern Region, the Birim area or the Birim community is referred to the Akyem Oda area which is the Birim Central Municipality or Akyem Sweduro which falls under the Birim South District, all outside the Akyem Abuakwa territory which host the Atewa forest.

It is therefore false for the Minister of Defence to refer the Atewa forest which is largely located in the Akyem Abuakwa traditional area as the Birim area.

Claim 2

700 excavators were counted by the armed forces leaving the Atewa forest reserve alone, within 24 hours.

Verdict: Misleading

Explanation: There is no denying the fact that, there are some cases of artisanal mining and few illegal mining activities ongoing in some parts of the forest which is a Protected Forest Reserve and a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA), meeting the conditions for Alliance for Zero Extinction status. But it is misleading on the part of the Minister to create the impression that, the entire illegal activity is happening inside the protected reserve.

Environmentalists and other researchers have revealed that, most of the illegal mining activities were being undertaken in off reserve areas like Kubreso and the Kwabeng community but not in the main reserve area as the impression was created by the Defence Minister.

In claiming that about 700 excavators were counted moving from the Atewa forest within 24 hours, the Minister failed to give the source of his data. What makes his claims more exaggerating or misleading is the fact that, government had earlier claimed that, it is finding it difficult to get payloaders to carry the excavators from the forest reserve and how the government managed to count the excavators leaving the forest is still begging for answers.