Districts bordering Gishwati Mukura National Park have said new measures are being tightened to crack down on illegal mining activities that threaten the protected forest.
The crackdown follows various cases being recorded, officials said.
Gishwati Mukura National Park was recently declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve after being restored for US$9.5 million since 2014 and dedicated to tourism activities in 2020.
The park consists of two separate forests – the larger Gishwati and the small Mukura, totaling 34 square kilometers plus a buffer zone.
It was restored after being almost depleted due to mostly resettlement, ranching and illegal mining in the mineral-rich forest.
Despite the restoration, counties have said illegal mining activity still poses a threat to the reserve, which was home to a group of 20 chimpanzees who live alongside golden monkeys, L’hoest and blue monkeys, 395 bird species and 492 native plant species.
A golden monkey in Gishwati-Mukura Forest National Park. The reserve is home to a group of 20 chimpanzees who live alongside golden monkeys, Hoest and blue monkeys, 395 bird species and 492 native plantation residents. Photo:
“We have also witnessed illegal mining activities in our district. We are working with the police, the Bureau of Investigations, local leaders and residents to compile a list of all suspected individuals who are facing reprisals,” Etienne Havugimana, the vice mayor in charge of economic development in Rutsiro district, told The New Times next Tuesday 9.8.
He said they organize meetings with local leaders, especially village and Isibo (low-level administrative units) leaders, noting, “They are the ones who have more information about those involved in illegal mining that is driving the Gishwati Mukura National Park threatened.”
He added that a list of companies suspected of employing local people for illegal mining activities is also being prepared.
“Illegal mining was carried out in park buffer zones, in the park, in rivers and others. Some were arrested and others taken to transit centers,” he said, without revealing the number of suspects on the list.
Evariste Bazingerero, a resident of Gashubi cell in Ngororero district, said residents are being supported to pursue various income projects including pig farming as an alternative to seeking income from poaching activities in Gishwati Mukura National Park.
However, he said there are those engaged in illegal mining that threaten the forest.
“Before the forest restoration project began, many residents could enter the forest for piling, mining activities and poaching,” he said.
Seven people arrested
Seven people have been arrested in Ngororero District after being found illegally mining tungsten in Gishwati Mukura National Park.
They were arrested during an operation by the Rwandan National Police in the park next to Gatomvu village, Mugarura cell, Muhanda sector.
Superintendent of Police (SP) Bonaventure Twizere Karekezi, the police spokesman for the western region, said the illegal mining activities were reported by local residents.
“After police were alerted to illegal mining by local residents of Gatomvu village, an operation was carried out and the suspects arrested in the act using traditional mineral mining tools. They had already mined 4kg of tungsten,” he said.
The suspects and the exhibits were turned over to the Rwanda Investigation Bureau at Kabaya Station for further legal investigation.
He reminded the public that illegal mining, particularly in protected areas, and the destruction of forests are criminal practices.
Article 72 of Law n. 064/2021 of 10/14/2021 on biodiversity provides that, without prejudice to other laws, a natural person who carries out mineral exploration activities or exploits mines or quarries in a protected area commits a criminal offence.
If convicted, he or she faces a term of imprisonment of not less than one year but not more than three years and a fine of more than Rwf 5 million and not more than Rwf 7 million.
If the offense referred to in paragraph 1 of this Article is committed in a National Park or Strict Conservation Area, the penalty shall be imprisonment for not less than three years but not more than five years and a fine of more than 7 million rupees but not more than 10 million rupees.