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A pit-looting gang in the Upper East region, said to be an illegal-mining cabal with a history of taking some mineworkers hostage, has inflicted deep cutlass wounds on three miners inside a mining pit at Gbani, a community in the Talensi District.
The victims, each one bleeding from the head, clawed out of the troubled pit and ran ‘haphazardly’ to the Bolgatanga Police Station for shelter. The three men, who now carry heavy clusters of plasters on their heads after their discharge from the hospital, have been identified as Ghanaian-born employees of the Chinese-owned Shaanxi Mining (Gh) Ltd.
“They were many, more than us,” said Ali Danladi, speaking indistinctly like one who had lost his voice to a scream for help. “They were more than fifty and we were five. We fought with them but we couldn’t hold our ground. They attacked us and they beat us. They tied us, took away our phones, our money and everything that was in our pockets. They beat us.”
A mining engineer in charge of the company’s decline shafts, Bright Tsidi Akuinor, was among the three men who suffered the onslaught. He was struck deep in the right eye.
“My main duty is about making sure that all the galamsey accesses to our mine are blocked. We blast to seal the places which they (illegal miners) pass through or weld metals to block these places. I went down as usual to inspect all the places that had been welded the previous day. They have been going in there to take our ore.
“When I finished my inspection, I realised that some of the galamseyers (illegal miners) were coming from the lower level to where I was. They came with much force. They attacked us. There were so many weapons with them. They overpowered us,” narrated Bright as he struggled to see from under the thick plasters that crossed each other on the affected eye.
The underground attack comes 3 months after government had ordered the Chinese mining firm to suspend operations indefinitely to pave way for investigations into the killings of some local miners attributed by some natives to the Chinese expatriates in the area.
The agitated residents had, after the suspension directive took effect in the first week of May this year, marched at least twice to the media to complain that the company was still working.
The company had rebutted the claims strongly, saying it was only carrying out its routine “care and maintenance” exercise and pulled out a go-ahead letter it said it had received from the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources to do so. Shaanxi, in turn, also had levelled strong accusations at some of the locals, alleging that they were taking undue advantage of the government-imposed suspension to sneak into its pits to steal ore.
Security officers held hostage
This is not the first time an underground attack has occurred at the mine. The company’s Human Resource Manager, Joseph Anokye, told the press some security officers engaged by the company were recently held hostage and punished by the intruders.
“Our men were guarding the [underground pits]. They broke and came there and attacked them. They were able to take four of our security people as hostage underground. They beat them and one of them became very weak. They thought that he had died. So, they left him underground. And they held the three, passed them through their illegal [tunnels]. They forced them to carry our stones (gold ore) for them whilst they were climbing very steep rails.
“They were pushing them at gunpoint, cutlasses. And they brought them to the top. And when they heard that police were going there, they left them and they vanished. Our people freed themselves and returned to us. The one who was left there in the pit regained consciousness, got some energy, climbed to the top and we sent him to the hospital. They stamped on his stomach. He was saved by God,” Mr. Anokye recounted.
Illegal miners connected bedrooms to our pits- Shaanxi
According to Mr. Anokye, some illegal miners in the community had dug tunnels which now link them from their rooms to the Shaanxi’s operational area to mine and to loot.
“The illegal miners have constructed pits in their homes, connecting our underground operations. We have the leaders. Three major pits are identifiable. And these leaders have recruited people, most of them youngsters, to go through their illegal pits to our underground to steal ore. The most serious thing about their activity over there is they come there with explosives to blast the support pillars in order to take the ore. They come there with hammers, chisels to chisel high-grade areas to steal ore.
“We have petitioned all the regulatory agencies and explained to them the activities of these galamseyers on our mine and the danger that they can create. Talk about blasting support pillars and the possible cave-in, putting a whole lot of people, including themselves, in danger. We have not received any response from any of the regulatory agencies. We have been left in the hook to fight the galamsey miners on our own. And that is very dangerous,” Mr. Anokye said.
Police, having received complaints from the victims of the latest attack, have swung into action to track down the assailants. The development has prompted calls for the introduction of an anti-illegal-mining taskforce in the area. Leading the calls is Charles Ndanbon Taleog, Managing Director of Yenyeya, one of the mining groups to which Shaanxi is rendering technical support services.
“I’m so worried because it’s about the lives of people. We have written several petitions to the authorities so that we can get these pits closed completely. And it looks like they are not trying to listen. It’s about the lives of innocent citizens and workers. If anybody dies there, they will say Shaanxi.
“Meanwhile, they pass through pits that have been constructed by Kwesi Bantama. And I have been saying it- Kwesi Bantama, Issifu and Macho- these are the people causing the whole thing. They construct these pits inside their bedrooms and go into our mine. It’s about people’s lives. People are dying. The anti-galamsey taskforce should be extended to our operational area to curb this menace. If not, it will continue to happen,” an alarmed-looking Mr. Taleog stressed.