Two women, toddler released
Kaieteur Park mining clampdown…18 still in custodyBy Lakhram BhagiratCarol Williams and Sabrina D’Santos, along with two-year-old Naziel Williams, residents of Chenapau, in Region Eight, who had been detained at the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) Headquarters at Eve Leary during the clampdown on illegal mining in the Kaieteur National Park, were released on Monday night.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 — 18 adult males, two females and a two-year-old child — 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.Carol Williams with her son Naziel and Sabrina D’Santos after being released by CID officersThe two females and the toddler were released from police custody at about 18:30h on Monday, but the 18 males were still detained up to press time. They are being represented by Attorney-at-Law Mark Conway.“They catch we when we did coming out of the backdam. They reach we on the line and they make we go back till near the backdam, and we had to spend whole afternoon, whole night there on Saturday. They said that we were in the (Kaieteur National) Park, but we were out of the Park,” D’Santos related.She said the detainees were brought to Georgetown in the same clothes they were wearing when detained, and none of them has had a shower since Saturday last.Dredge owner Susan RahamanThese women each cook for a mining camp, and both vehemently deny that they were mining in the Park. Williams was released into the custody of the Amerindian Peoples Association (APA) Chairperson Laura George on Sunday night because she had her toddler son with her.Legal OperationsDredge owner Susan Rahaman has told the Guyana Times that she legally operates two dredges in the area, and that the officers had gone into the backdam and brought out seven of her employees, including her son, George D’Abreau.“We just have rumours coming out that the people that gone in there — the police and soldiers — break down camps, break up all the engines, (and) throw them overboard in the water. We are waiting on these people to get the full details on what really transpired,” Rahaman related.She added that concerned persons are restricted from communicating with those in custody, and accordingly do not know what really had transpired. Rahaman said that following the recent flooding in the area, a lot of the mining operations were halted because they had been washed away; and no person had been engaged in mining when the detainees were ambushed by the joint operation on Saturday.She revealed that persons had been in the process of moving their equipment when they encountered the officers and were arrested.Michael Mc Garrell leaving the CID headquartersAPA representative Michael Mc Garrell has said the areas in which the persons were held were all legal operations. He maintains that the persons held were not mining, but were in the process of packing up camp.“If you check records, you will see that there are claims — river claims and concessions in Echerak area — and these would have been given by the GGMC; and there are mining claims where these people were working…Where the miners were, they have documentation to prove that they were legally there; unless the documents that GGMC would have provided to them are not in keeping with the laws,” Mc Garrell said.Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman has said it has been recommended to the National Protected Areas Commission (PAC) that no more fuel must be flown to the Kaieteur National Park for onward transport to Menzies Landing, located on the left bank of the Potaro River. He explained that this move is designed to stifle illegal mining in the area.However, PAC Chairman Denise Fraser has promised that, before any definitive step is taken, consultations would be had in this regard.Guyana Geology and Mines Commission officers leaving CID Headquarters, Eve Leary on Monday eveningMc Garrell has, however, said that if Government were to implement this decision, severe backlash would follow. “So to say that (by) cutting off fuel they would choke the miners….I am going to wait and see what the backlash to that is going to be. Because they have several other miners in the Echerak area, as I said, who depend on the airstrip at Kaieteur to receive their fuel.”Misleading informationThe APA representative has also said the information Government is being provided with is inaccurate and misrepresents the facts. “I also saw that they found fifteen excavators up there…Now, that is impossible; Kaieteur does not have even one excavator. The reason for this is that the terrain to get there is difficult, and to get an excavator into Kaieteur would require some sort of big helicopter. So I think a lot of information that is being spread is not true, and it needs to be cleared up, because it makes it seem as though these people are involved in a lot of heavy mining, and this is not true,” Mc Garrell clarified.Dredge owner Rahaman has also disputed claims of excavators being used in the area. She said the officers may have mistaken spades for excavators, since the dominant method of operation in the area involves the use of spades. She added that the Natural Resources Ministry and GGMC have no ground officer to feed them their information, hence they are playing the “assumption game”.She noted that many of the detainees are simple pork-knockers, and some were even engaged in fishing when they were apprehended and accused of illegally mining. Rahaman added that the Government, through its relevant channels, is yet to inform residents of the area what really was the reason behind the clampdown, since no one was mining in the Kaieteur National Park.When contacted, GGMC Commissioner Newell Dennison said he had no comment on the incident, and noted that he would not reveal any additional information.Human rights riolationMore than 100 residents of Chenapau village have held widespread demonstrations, calling for the release of those in custody and citing various human rights violations. A relative of one of the men in custody told the Guyana Times that his cousin had not been afforded the opportunity to have a shower since being detained on Saturday.“You find that the conditions (under which) these people are being kept (is) as though they are robbers or murderers or thieves. (They have been) sitting on the floor from probably since yesterday to this time… The conditions are deplorable,” the man lamented.He added that the persons were taken into custody with their soiled clothing, and are being forced to remain in them until they are either charged or released.“If you see the conditions that they bring them down in….with the same bush clothing, nothing else. They were not able to shower or brush their teeth or anything else. That is horrible, because we have women in there, too. It is like they are not humans,” Rahaman lamented.Mc Garrell said they are unaware what next step the investigations would take, but they are hopeful that the other detainees would be released. “They have not been able to shower since they were held. We are trying to see what we can do for them in terms of bringing toiletries and other supplies, so that they can be more comfortable and clean,” he added.Chenapau Toshao Edward Mc Garrell has said he is appalled at the treatment meted out to those in custody. He noted that his villagers are being treated as though they are prisoners of war, since they were being escorted by soldiers armed with AK-47 assault rifles.