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Districts that border Gishwati-Mukura National Park have said that fresh measures are being tightened to crack down on illegal mining activities that threaten the protected forest.
The fresh crackdown follows different cases that are being recorded, officials said.
Gishwati-Mukura National Park was recently designated a UNESCO biosphere reserve after being restored at a cost of $9.5 million since 2014 and was handed over in 2020 for tourism activities.
The park is made up of two separate forests – the larger Gishwati and small Mukura, forming a total of 34 square kilometres plus a buffer zone.
It was restored after being nearly depleted largely due to resettlement, livestock farming and illegal mining in the mineral-rich forest.
Despite restoration, districts have said that illegal mining activities are still posing a threat to the reserve which accommodated a group of 20 chimpanzees that live alongside golden monkeys, l’hoest’s and blue monkeys, 395 species of birds and 492 indigenous plant species.
A golden monkey at Gishwati-Mukura forest national Park. The reserve accommodates a group of 20 chimpanzees that live alongside golden monkeys, l’hoest’s and blue monkeys, 395 species of birds and 492 indigenous plan. Photo:
“In our district, we have also been experiencing illegal mining activities. We are working with police, the investigation bureau , local leaders and residents to come up with a list of all suspected people to face a fresh crackdown,” Etienne Havugimana, the Vice Mayor in charge of economic development in Rutsiro district told The New Times on Tuesday August 9.
He said they are organising meetings with local leaders especially village and Isibo (lowest administrative units) leaders, noting that, “They are the ones who have more information about those involved in illegal mining that is threatening Gishwati-Mukura National Park.”
He added that a list of businesses suspected of employing local people in illegal mining activities is also being prepared.
“Illegal mining was being carried out in buffer zones of the park, in the park, rivers and others. Some have been detained and others were sent to transit centres,” he said, without divulging the number of suspects on the list.
Evariste Bazingerero, a resident of Gashubi cell, Ngororero District, said that residents have been supported to run different income projects such as pig farming among others as alternatives to seeking income from poaching activities in Gishwati-Mukura National Park.
However, he said there are those who are employed in illegal mining that threatens the forest.
“Before the project to restore the forest started, many residents could enter the forest for stakes, mining activities and poaching,” he said.
Seven people arrested
Seven people have been arrested in Ngororero District after they were found mining wolfram illegally in Gishwati-Mukura National Park.
They were arrested in an operation conducted by Rwanda National Police in the park on the side of Gatomvu village, Mugarura cell, Muhanda sector.
Superintendent of Police (SP) Bonaventure Twizere Karekezi, the Police spokesperson for the western region, said that the illegal mining activities were reported by local residents.
“After Police were tipped off by local residents in Gatomvu village on illegal mining, an operation was conducted and the suspects were arrested red-handed with traditional tools excavating minerals. They had already mined 4kgs of wolfram,” he said.
The suspects and the exhibits were handed over to Rwanda Investigation Bureau at Kabaya station for further legal investigations.
He reminded the public that illegal mining, particularly in protected areas, and vandalising forests are practices that are punishable by law.
Article 72 of the Law N° 064/2021 of 14/10/2021 governing biological diversity provides that without prejudice to provisions of other laws, a natural person who undertakes mineral exploration activities or exploits mines or quarries in a protected area, commits an offence.
Upon conviction, he or she is liable to a term of imprisonment of not less than one year but not more than three years and a fine of more than Rwf5 million and not more than Rwf7 million.
If the offence referred to in paragraph one of this article is committed in a national park or a strict nature reserve, the penalty is a term of imprisonment of not less than three years but not more than five years and a fine of more than Rwf7 million but not more than Rwf10 million.
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