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Government approves riffles for forest guards

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Government through the Department of Forestry has approved a resolution to arm officers manning the country’s forest reserves with guns as one way of putting in check the alarming depletion of Malawi’s forest resources.

Director of Forestry Clement Chilima made the revelation on Tuesday when he hosted members of the Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources who were on a fact-finding tour to the Viphya plantations.

This comes after government’s decision to deploy army officers to guard some of the endangered forest reserves like the Viphya faced strong opposition, especially from the Timber Millers Union (TMU).

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He said government has mobilised enough resources and is at the meantime in the process of procuring the fire arms, starting with 50 for the first consignment.

Chilima said this will later be followed by a series of intensive trainings for the officers on fire arm handling and use.

“We have been working on the clearance process with the country’s security agents and everything has been finalised and formalised. In the first phase of the exercise, we are targeting 150 guns but we have started with just 50 which will be in the country shortly,” Chilima said.

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He said this will also be one way of protecting the forest officers who have been injured in line of duty at the hands of illegal sawyers or loggers who he described as criminals.

“Some of our officers have been killed, others assaulted by the ruthless trespassers for instance when confiscating charcoal and other illegal forest products. So this also is to ensure maximum security of our personnel,” he explained.

This, however, does not mean the end to the presence of the military in the forests.

Chairperson for the committee Welani Chilenga who was leader of delegation hailed the decision, saying it is high time government employed tough measures to protect the forest resources.

Chilenga said: “This excites the committee; we actually wish they had a thousand guns because we really need to be serious in conserving our environment. Should we not be serious we will wake up to a bare country some day.”

This comes at the height of concerns from various stakeholders that about 10,000 hectares of the 53,000 hectares of the forest area lie bare.

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