Minister of Defence, Mr Dominic Nitiwul has revealed 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.

Addressing a press conference on Wednesday however, the Minister announced that, the wanton destruction has been largely brought under control.

“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.

He disclosed that, the military taskforce during the third phase of the operation were able to cover River Offin, River Oda and River Birim, and about 40 excavators all working within the Birim River were burnt and, in another location, 228 Chanfangs, 87 water pumping machines, 76 wooden structures, one container, seven generators, motorbikes, hunter guns, were also burnt. He added that, many other operations are set to follow until the fight is completely won.

According to the Minister, most of the people engaged in the illegal mining activities are not ordinary Ghanaians but rather rich men and women sitting in Accra and London.

He revealed that, an aerial inspection revealed that, there is serious destruction to river bodies and the environment in the mining communities with the Birim river for instance almost destroyed.

Warning to night operators

Mr Nitiwul has also advised illegal miners who operate at night to stop. “This is a new strategy adopted by the illegal miners. It is risky and as the Minister of Defence, I cannot guarantee their safety should they be caught by the task force”.

The Minister observed that since ‘Operation Halt’ commenced, some illegal miners, in their quest to escape being apprehended, have resorted to engaging in their illegalities between 9 pm and 4 am.

“They go at midnight and engage in Changfans activities and come back during the day. That is how brave they are. We know, and we know the towns that you are doing it in so we will come after you.

“And in the night for the safety of the soldiers, I cannot guarantee your own safety. No soldier will go out in the night without trying to protect himself or herself first. So I will advise you not to go out,” he emphasised.

He announced that, the third phase of Operation Halt, an enhanced exercise to rid the country’s water bodies and forests of activities of ‘galamsey’ has ended.

Mr Nitiwul also stated that the mining companies who have been sighted as culprits in destroying the country’s environmental resources will be tasked to resuscitate them.

“We expect mining companies responsible for this destruction to cover the holes they have created and plant trees at their own expense as stipulated by law. If they can’t do that, then they have no business being in the mining industry,” he stated.

By Samuel Gyasi