• Company defies High Court Order, govt told to act
• Operation illegally enters customary land, causes environmental damage
• Fact-finding mission encounters life threatening incident
ENVIRONMENTAL damage and lawlessness is obvious in parts of Small Malaita where logging operation is currently active as witnessed by this paper in visit to a logging operation site, Tuesday this week.
The environmental damage caused by the illegal logging operation, which currently operated above Tawahaule village in the following customary land: Sesu, Pungu and Esirara customary lands is real and is worth assessment from the responsible authorities.
A fact-finding mission from the above-mentioned tribes went and found out for themselves the damage the uninvited logging operation has done to their customary lands on Tuesday this week.
Solomon Star was invited to be part of the fact finding mission and was told that those locals who invited the logging operation were not landowners of the tribal lands that logging operation is currently taking place, meaning the current logging operation in the area is illegal.
In a letter to the editor published by this paper dated 10 May 2021, Hendry Star Dora exposed those behind the logging operation in the Sesu, Pungu, and Esirara as; Integrated Agro Forest Development, Global SI Limited, and Grace logging.
Information gathered stated that logging operations in the said tribal lands ignored directives issued by the commissioner of Forest and trespassed into those customary lands on 14 February this year.
Since then the logging operation has continued to fall, skidding and hauling logs in those customary lands.
Despite high court orders to halt logging operations and police physical presence to try to halt the first shipment of logs from a log pond near Tawahaule, the first shipment of logs from the said customary lands have already left the shores of Small Malaita without a single cent being paid to the rightful resource owners.
A police report sighted by this paper regarding the trip to Tawahaule stated the following, “We left Auki on Wednesday morning 12 May and arrived at Maka at 12:30 pm before leaving for Tawahaule Village in the afternoon.”
“We tried to halt the operation for two hours but they continued to disobey the High Court Orders and loaded the rest of the logs onto the log ship.”
“Actually the logging operation was going on and had not stopped despite the four attempts made by the police from Maka and Auki.”
“They were still operating at the log pond and in the bush.”
“The camp was still there and being used by the workers.”
“Machines and equipment were still there.”
“There was no sign of obeying the orders from the High Court.”
“We left the log pond and headed to Maka Police Station where we spent the night.”
“We returned to Auki the next day (13/5/21).”
As witnessed by this paper, logs are now piling at the same log pond ready for a likely second shipment if authorities do not act quickly to stop it.
Tribal representatives from the three customary lands who went on a fact-finding mission to see if the logging operation actually trespassed into their tribal lands have witnessed for themselves trespass and environmental damage done to their lands with disbelief.
The fact-finding mission discovered that logging operations not only trespassed into their customary lands, but also caused massive environmental damage to the land, river, and forest.
The fact-finding mission also discovered that logging operations had come in direct contact with rivers and streams in the logged area.
There was also evidence of machines directly crossing streams and operating directly above a waterfall.
Landslide and soil erosion is massive with evidence showing soil from the logged areas ended up in the river below.
The fact-finding mission has expressed great concern over a river in the logged area, which was once clear water that locals use for drinking when out gardening in the bush has now turned milky as the result of direct contact from the logging operation, which contaminated the river with red mud making it impossible for drinking.
Moreover, there is evidence of oil spill, which comes in direct contact with the river.
Locals who supported what was termed as ‘illegal logging’ in the said land boundaries have expressed their anger when coming face to face with the members of the fact-finding mission at around 10:00 am on Tuesday.
Local supporters of the logging operation intimidated the fact-finding mission members with knives and other weapons with verbal insults.
Fredrick Houma, an aggressive school teacher who supported the logging operation clearly threatened to chop off the neck of any member of the fact finding mission if they stop over at the log pond.
He was holding onto a weapon while issuing the verbal threat and intimidation.
This paper has witnessed threats in both action and verbal posed by locals who supported the logging operation directed to the fact-finding mission members over a distance of approximately one kilometer from the logging camp to the log pond.
It was lucky that the fact finding mission members did not reply with aggression as they were there purposely on a fact-finding mission and not to intimidate and fight, otherwise the situation could have ended up in brutal violence, which could result in injuries, loss of a life or lives.
As witnessed, the verbal insults the logger supporters directed at the fact-finding mission members were unthinkable, unbelievable, disrespectful, and unacceptable, which the fact-finding mission members said they will soon launch a compensation claim for the verbal insults which are morally wrong in the Small Malaita culture.
Those who supported the logging operation in an act of desperation tried to grab and escape with the Solomon Star camera when three men including the aggressive teacher threatened with knives and tried to pull the camera away.
The unsuccessful attempt to seize the camera resulted in the camera bag being torn.
As witnessed, the presence of logging operations in the said customary lands has triggered environmental damage and lawlessness among supporters of the logging operation who every now and then pose life-threatening threats to anyone who opposes the logging operation.
Solomon Star will further investigate the company that is operating illegally on the said land in our next publication.
Meanwhile, Police were urged to keep an open eye on the logging operation near Tawahaule village to ensure no one gets hurt.
Tawahaule village itself is now divided over the logging operation as those who opposed the logging operation were forced with threat to leave the village and settle in nearby communities.
By WILSON SAENI
Auki News Bureau