Madam Joyce Ofori Kwafo, Head, Corporate Affairs and Media Relations, Forestry Commission, in an interview with the Ghana News Agency, said a total of 15 different operations carried out between October and March led to the arrest of the culprits.
“In the last six months Forestry Commission staff in the Eastern Region, together with the military and police have conducted 15-night operations in the Atewa Forest Reserve.”
She said 11 of them had been sentenced whilst the rest have their cases pending before the Circuit Court B, Koforidua, adding that 16 pumping machines had also been confiscated and were in the custody of the Commission’s Kyebi district office.
The taskforce had similarly seized from the miners four chainsaw machines, two monkey jacks and two locally manufactured guns which are also in the custody of the Commission at the district office.
Some residents, including a group called “Concerned Citizens of Atewa Landscape,” had raised fears over the logging, mining and farming activities in the reserve, threatening its biodiversity.
The group alleged that the Commission’s staff at the Kyebi district had been negligent in discharging their duties of protecting the forest and had connived with persons undertaking the illegality.
Meanwhile, Madam Joyce Ofori Kwafo, said “it is not true that the Commission staff are sitting aloof, and illegal mining is going on in the reserve.”
She said in their quest to protect the forest reserve, seven of their staff had been attacked and injured by some chainsaw operators in the last seven months.
Madam Ofori Kwafo, however, called on the group to lodge a complaint with the Commission, detailing the various infractions and personnel involved in the alleged negligence and connivance.
The Commission would launch a full investigation into the issue and whoever would be found culpable would be dealt with, she added.
The Atewa Forest is said to be an internationally recognised biodiversity area of global significance, with an important watershed where the headwaters of three rivers and many smaller streams arise.
The three rivers, the Ayensu, Densu and Birim together provide clean water daily for over 5 million people, amongst other critical ecosystem services that many Ghanaians depend on.
The 17,400-hectare forest is home to more than 1,000 plant species, 230 species of birds, 570 butterfly species, and at least 50 species of mammals.
Some animal species like the Mangabey Monkey, Togo Slippery Frog, Afia Birago Puddle Frog, Atewa Dotted Border (Butterfly) and Blue-Moustached Bee-Eater (Bird), indigenous to the Forest, are considered Critically Endangered (CR) on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species and many more as Vulnerable and 5 potentially endemic species.