Malawi Defence Force soldiers (MDF) Sunday blocked close to seven timber sawyers who wanted to access the closed Viphya Plantation on the backing of a June 23 2016 court order which has not been vacated.
The sawyers, Sophilet Chirwa and six others, had their a lorry confiscated by the soldiers, according to our sources.
This comes on the backdrop of a letter Chirwa and the others wrote the Attorney General (AG) Kalekeni Kaphale through their lawyer George Kadzipatike on Thursday, complaining that they were being blocked from accessing the forest despite an agreement that they would be allowed access to the same by April 1 this year.
“They have indeed been blocked from entering the forest and [it] have had a truck confiscated and is heading for Moyale,” Kadzipatike confirmed.
When contacted, MDF officials were not immediately available for comment but Director of Forestry, Clement Chilima, said the forest remains closed from tree harvesting and timber processing.
“We have not reached a compromise to open the forest [and] that is why they [sawyers] are denied entry,” Chilima said.
In the letter to Kaphale, Chirwa and her colleagues warn that the Department of Forestry in the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining and MDF bosses risk court action if they keep ignoring the Mzuzu High Court ruling.
The complainants express concern over the actions of Forestry Department and MDF officials who they say are not allowing them access to the plantation despite reaching a compromise in an out-of-court agreement.
They also indicate that they felt betrayed by government for flouting an agreement that they would be allowed entry into the forest.
“We do not want to appear disrespectful to the AG who is head of the bar in the country but if his clients (the MDF and the Department of Forestry) continue to defy court orders in the country, we must warn that we are under strict instructions to pursue contempt of court [proceedings] to the end for those officials who are made to believe that they are above the law in the country. We do not want anarchy under the Attorney General’s office,” the letter reads
When contacted on Friday, Kaphale said he will respond directly to the author of the letter once he gets it.
“If he has written me, I will respond directly to him and not to the media,” Kaphale said.
But Chilima insisted that the logs were illegally harvested and that Chirwa and her colleagues will not be allowed entry into the forest.
This, he said, holds until an agreement on the quantities of the logs to be processed is reached between the two parties.
He said despite engaging in talks with the complainants and their lawyer, he is aware that they have insisted on entering the forest.
“We are in discussion with them and we met last week. We agreed that we will meet again in a few weeks to map the way forward. We don’t want a scenario where we will end up cheating each other. When we find that each side owes the other, we will all make sure we give each other what is due but if they try to get in, they will meet resistance,” said Chilima.
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