By Yankuba Jallow
Timber dealers have stormed the offices of this medium complaining of unfair treatment by the ECOMIG force stationed at Bwiam, with the illegal seizure of their forest products.
The men told Foroyaa that the ECOMIG forces stationed at Bwiam, seized their forest products including timber and other pieces of wood, acquired legally from community forests across the country.
Basirou Baldeh, a timer dealer said the ECOMIG forces unlawfully impounded his 5 trips of timber after producing all the legal documents for them; that last Sunday, the Force seized 190 pieces of wood he acquired from Sarreh Jawbeh village community forest in the Basse Administrative Area; that the ECOMIG forces officer told him they were given orders to stop and seize any timber and related materials.
“They took all the pieces and gave me back my empty truck,” Baldeh said.
He said he has spent over D74,000 and his reason for embarking on such a business is to make quick sales in order to meet the needs of his baby’s naming ceremony.
He showed this reporter signed and stamped receipts which he acquired from the Kudang Forestry Station. He also showed a removal permit for forest produce, signed, stamped and issued by the same forest station. Baldeh said he was issued ‘Royalty’ by the Ministry of Forestry at the Kudang Forestry Station.
“I lost over D780,000.00 because of the actions of the ECOMIG forces,” he said.
He calls on government to promote the rights and welfare of the citizenry. He said every citizen is sovereign and the ECOMIG forces should not do things that will deviate them from their actual mission in the Gambia.
Jibbie Jawo, another timber dealer said the force has seized three trips unlawfully; that he has all the relevant documents which he produced before his timber was seized.
Most of the timber dealers alleged to have in their possession, legal documents that warrant them to embark on such a trade but to their astonishment, their efforts and struggles have been frustrated by the ECOMIG soldiers. According to the dealers, they were told by the ECOMIG force officer that there is an order from the top that all vehicles should be allowed to pass except for those with such items as timber; that the ECOMIG soldiers told them to return to the people who issued them those documents if they are legal, and come with them.
Principal Forestry Officer for West Coast Region Mr. Ousainou Cham, in an interview with this reporter said the vehicles were not seized but were impounded; that the timber dealers have legally procured forest products. He added that there is a procedure for those products that were imported to pay custom dues and thereafter the Department of Forestry will attest that the products were imported, based on their technical experience. He noted that before a person can embark on such activities, he must be issued with a vendor’s certificate.
“Most of these products are from URR, LRR and CRR,” Cham said.
“Over 90% of the trucks are with legal documents, meaning forestry and custom papers were all legally acquired,” he said.
He clarified that there was a ban in the country in February but this was lifted, to allow Gambians who were into this re-export business, to evacuate their excess logs that were lying in country in over 15 landing sites. He said the ban was lifted 10 weeks ago and it was done to allow people evacuate their excess logs since they have incurred expenditure on them.
“They are packing these vehicles indiscriminately which is not proper,” he said.
All other vendors and dealers who spoke to this reporter, made similar remarks and accused ECOMIG of using force over them.