After a three month amnesty period declared in August of 2014 by Governor Saidi of Orientale Province, a special force of ICCN guards and Congolese military is moving through the Reserve shutting down illegally operated gold mines.
From November 14 – 21, Okapi Conservation Project (OCP) educators taught soldiers about the expected “Code of Conduct” in dealing with human rights issues and interacting with local communities. Topics also included background information about conservation laws and the purpose of the Reserve to protect wildlife and habitat.
The joint force under the direction of the ICCN began deployment in Bandisende, Molokay, Adusa and Epulu on November 22. A peaceful evacuation of the miners is the highest priority of the operation and as patrols encounter active mines they order miners to leave, confiscated tools and destroy temporary huts. Hundreds of miners have been escorted out of the Reserve and there have been no reported incidences of violence so far. At the two checkpoints entering the Reserve at Adusa and Zunguluka, all trucks and vehicles are searched and any carrying large amounts of food items are turned back. Depriving the mines of food to feed the miners forces many miners to leave the Reserve reducing the potential for conflict when the mines are shut down by government forces.
ICCN guards will undertake continued surveillance of the closed gold mines to prevent the re-establishment of the mining operations and allow for regeneration of the forest. Recent surveys show that wildlife quickly returns to areas around abandoned mines once the human disturbances are removed. Monthly reconnaissance trips during the next year by ICCN patrol units are planned to prevent the mines from being reoccupied.
Progress made by the ICCN and the Congolese army to clear out armed militia, poachers and now miners is truly a remarkable achievement given the lack of government resources to impose law and order in the region. The brave actions of all those involved, and the support of all partners and OCP staff to secure the okapi wildlife reserve with a minimum impact on local communities is truly commendable.