Police fire live bullets at civilians

ANTI-RIOT police have shot dead two civilians at the North Mara Gold Mine which is operated by African Barrick Gold (ABG) in the Northern Tarime District.

Mara Regional Police Commander for Tarime Special Police Zone, Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Justus Kamugisha confirmed the latest killings at the mine.

Anti-riot police were forced to use life bullets after between 800 and 10,000 local people invaded the mine to grab gold sand on Thursday evening, according to ACP Kamugisha.

“Two people were shot dead during the invasion at the mine that occurred yesterday between 6:00 pm to 7:00pm. They were shot while in the mine pits,” the ACP said. The deceased have been identified as Paulo Sarya (26) and Rodgers Mwita (18), both from villages located near the mine which has been experiencing frequent attacks from local communities.

Another civilian identified as Mseti Mwita was seriously injured during the clashes. A police officer  identified  as E.6059 Corporal Julius was also  injured  by  machetes  during  the mine  latest invasion, which  is said to have triggered   heavy tension between the mine and the  surrounding  communities, according to reports from the scene.

Both  Mwita and the police officers  were rushed to Tarime District Hospital where they were until yesterday afternoon hospitalized and their  condition is reported to be critical.

“It was raining and the invaders came from different villages shouting. They were armed with weapons such as stones, machetes and knives. I did not  believe that such a huge number of people can invade the mine,” ACP Kamugisha said.

Three vehicles belonging to the police force were also badly damaged by angry intruders who hurled stones at the police, according to him. ACP Kamugisha admitted that the shooting has worsened the situation at the area. He appealed to local communities to refrain from invading the mine to grab gold sand.

“Source of all this is the two young men who have been killed.  But the investor (ABG) is operating the mine legally and there is no reason for people to invade the mine to grab gold sand,”  ACP noted.

Mara Regional Commissioner (RC) Mr John Tupa was reported to have rushed in Tarime   after getting information on the  latest shootings at the mine which  is guarded  by police officers  and dozens of private security guards 24 hours.

The killings occurred  few weeks  after Deputy Minister for Energy and Minerals, Mr  Stephen  Masele made  a familiarization  tour into the villages  located  near the mine and warned that the government will not tolerate  to witness  its citizens  being killed unnecessarily at the mine.

Dozens of civilians have been killed at the troubled mine since 2002, when it was officially inaugurated by retired President Benjamin Mkapa. In May, last year, five civilians were also shot death after hundreds of people invaded the mine and clashed with anti-riot police.

ABG, a Tanzania leading gold producer has been has been forced to construct a multi-million wall fence in a bid to boost security at the mine, according to its senior officials. The government has also been planning to remove its cops   from the mine, but it is still not clear whether the plan will be implemented if the situation remains tense in the area.

The Canadian giant miner (ABG) has also been   putting in place various initiatives meant  to improve the relations with the local communities   in recent years. They included signing of a new 10 million US dollars (about 16 bil/-)  taped Village Benefits Implementation Agreement (VBIA), with the aim of improving social services  in the areas around  the mine.

The three years deal was signed by village governments and the mine late last year.  The package of money will be mainly invested in education, health and water sectors, according to local leaders.

Ordinary people, local leaders as well as Tarime authorities welcomed the VBIA, predicting that they might help to make their conflicts between the mine and local communities,  a thing of the past.

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