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General News of Saturday, 5 September 2009

Source: The Enquirer

Akyem Farmers Bomb ‘Newmont Chiefs’

Farmers and indigenous citizens of the Akyem concession area of Newmont Gold Ghana Limited have made nonsense of a recent ‘dishonourable’ media blitz by some traditional chiefs which attacked WACAM over the UN query on the mining firm’s project in Ajenua Bepo Forest Reserve.

The chiefs from the Akyem Kotoku area who reportedly have been influenced by Newmont with a total of $42,000 spearheaded a communiqué in support of the Newmont Akyem Project to UN Commission on Human Rights but the farmers and concerned indigenes of the area say their action smacks of selfishness and ignorance.

In a strong-worded statement of reaction to the Newmont-backed communiqué of the chiefs, the farmers, youth and citizens of the area stated that “the paid agents of Newmont, which unfortunately includes some chiefs, spoke for themselves and not everybody in the area because we are individual property owners who are fighting to protect our properties and the future generation”. The statement signed by almost 300 farmers and indigenes has been submitted to the Minister of Environment, Ms Sherry Aryittey and copied to the Mines and Natural Resources Minister, the Environmental Protection Agency and the UNDP Representative in Ghana.

The farmers noted that the Newmont Akyem project would lead to the loss of livelihood for about 10,000 people, destruction of cultural heritage including public cemeteries and royal cemeteries among others. These negative impacts have been stated in the Environmental Impact Statement of Newmont.

The Akyem project of Newmont would destroy the Ajenua Bepo Forest reserve, which is a Forest Reserve of biodiversity importance, and the Forest Reserve is at an altitude, which promotes rainfall and supports agriculture in the area. “There is no doubt that the destruction of the Ajenua Bepo Forest Reserve would affect agriculture in the area. Newmont has stated in its documents that its mining operations would destroy many sites of cultural importance especially cemeteries including a Royal cemetery in Yayaso, shrines among others”, the farmers said. Further, the farmers stated that “it has always been part of our tradition that traditional rulers are protectors of land, forest, rivers, mountains, for posterity. It is amazing that people who should be defenders of our natural resources for the future generation have become tools to be used readily by foreign companies that want to destroy our livelihood, cultural heritage, and pollute our water bodies”. They continued that “We expected that our Chiefs who know the value of land and the importance of farming to our people would not seek short-term personal benefits from Newmont to destroy our lands, forests, royal cemeteries, rivers, mountains for a short period of 15 years”.

They revealed that some of the youth leaders have been promised jobs by Newmont as a way of seeking their support for the project, adding that the company is using this expectation of employment to solicit the support of the youth but mechanised mining can only employ a few people.

“When we realised that some of the chiefs, youth and opinion leaders in the area had been influenced with money, contracts etc, we approached WACAM to support our struggles against the mine which would last for only 15 years but cause permanent harm to our lands, pollute rivers and destroy our cultural heritage. The chiefs who are now acting as agents of Newmont would not be personally affected by the Newmont Akyem mining project”, they stated.

The noted that WACAM has been very consistent with their struggles and had succeeded in bringing pressure to bear on government, and the company against mining in the Ajenua Bepo forest reserve. They added that they are happy that the UN Commission for Human Rights had questioned the rationale behind mining in the Ajenua Bepo forest reserve based on national and global concerns. “The query of UN, which was sent to the government of Ghana, was finally submitted to Newmont for response and when the company could not respond to the issues, they hired agents made up of some chiefs, youth and opinion leaders to do the dirty work for them. Instead of responding to the concerns of the UN, Newmont and its paid agents decided to resort to unwarranted attacks on WACAM”, the farmers stated in their reaction statement.

The farmers and citizens who will gravely be affected by the Newmont Akyem project expressed their unflinching support to WACAM as an incorruptible and patriotic organisation that has an enviable record of working to support the poor. They stressed the Ajenua Bepo Forest Reserve belongs to all Ghanaians and generations to come “and we should not allow a few people to impose their selfish interest on everybody”.

“We had sent petitions to government against the Newmont Akyem Project signed by about 215 Farmers and citizens in the area on 1st September 2006 and 28th February 2008. We therefore support the call against mining operations that would destroy the Ajenua Bepo Forest Reserve”, the statement concluded.