By Yankuba Jallow
ECOMIG Forces stationed at Bwiam in Foni Kansala district, have confiscated truckloads of timber trunks last Thursday and Friday.
The reason for the seizure of the logs by ECOMIG has not been ascertained because they declined to comment on the issue.
According to the victims, more than 7 trucks were stopped by the ECOMIG forces who according to reports, are said to have received an order to impound any vehicle with such forest product. Most of the trucks were off loaded at the military camp at Bwiam and the trucks parked.
The ECOMIG force came into the Gambia on an intervention mission following the political impasse last January. The force in the early months of this year, was involved in a similar situation at Brikama, where many trucks were impounded. The impoundment of the vehicles first occurred on Thursday August 10 2017, when about 8 vehicles were impounded at the ECOMIG station in Bwaim.
The vendors have in their possession legal documents that allows them to trade in timber but to their astonishment, they were blocked by ECOMIG soldiers; that they were told that there is an executive order that vehicles carrying such forest products should not be allowed to pass. They added that the ECOMIG soldiers told them that if their documents are legal let them returned to those who had issued them with the documents and come with them. They all held that the products that are impounded, are different; 8 vehicles carrying firewood and others carrying Gmelina products, where also included.
Mr. Ousainou Cham, the Principal Forestry Officer, West Coast Region said the vehicles were not seized but were impounded because they had legally procured the forest products including those from the subregion. He added that there is a procedure for those that were imported to pay their 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” he said. “Over 90% of the trucks are with their legal documents meaning forestry and custom papers were all legally acquired” he said.
He clarified that there was a ban in The Gambia in February but the ban was lifted to allow Gambians who were into this re-export business to evacuate their logs that were lying in over 15 landing sites within the country. He said the lifting of the ban is 10 weeks now and that this was done to allow the people evacuate their logs since they have spent money on acquiring them.
He said most of the vendors came up with genuine excuses that their vehicles had break down causing their delay.
He said the ECOMIG force are not obliged to impound any of the trucks that have firewood, Gmelina and other species like ‘Jalo,’ because it will affect the construction industry since saw mills directly rely on these products.
“They are packing these vehicles indiscriminately which is not proper” he said.
He said he has spoken to the ‘Colonels’ at Kanilai and Bakau, to no avail. He added that on Wednesday August 16, the Permanent Secretary and himself, were able to speak to the head of the ECOMIG force in the country, and were able to tell him that the produce procured, were legally obtained and Gambians do not go to Senegal to bring the trees that are used to make canoes but it is the Senegalese who bring them into the country.
“We told them that the cross border trading is here to stay as it begun long ago,” he said.
“We told the ECOMIG General that we are a government and we need to communicate by consulting before acting,” he said.
Mr. Cham said Gambian forest produce are going into Senegal in places such as Kaolack, Mbure and Dakar; that in Tanji and Sutu Sinjang Senegalese nationals are the constructors of the canoes which they in turn transport to Senegal to sell or use. He said there is a large number of Senegalese in the Gambia who are utilizing the country’s natural resources and are living in harmony with Gambians.