KAMBELE, EASTERN CAMEROON - Cameroonian authorities say they are deporting more than 1,000 illegal gold miners on the country’s eastern border with the Central African Republic after 27 miners died in May due to landslides. Those being expelled include 400 Central Africans and Senegalese in the village of Kambele.
At least 300 illegal miners were forced by Cameroonian police and military to sit on the floor at the Kambele market square on Tuesday night this week. Among them are Cameroonians, Central Africans and Senegalese.
Alfred Kamoun is a 31-year-old father of two from the neighboring Central African Republic. He says he was forced out of a mining site called Boukarou in Kambele village.
He says he and his two brothers will no longer be able to raise $50 each night from digging and selling gold. He says while at the mining site they could dig at least 7 grams of gold each night. Kamoun says his son will no longer be paid $4 every night for supplying water to wash gold.
Kambele is a village in Batouri, an administrative unit located about 700 kilometers from Cameroon’s eastern neighbor, CAR.
On Monday local authorities at Batouri said 27 illegal gold miners died in Kambele village in May. Auberlin Mbelessa, mayor of Batouri says an emergency crisis meeting recommended the deportation of at least 1,000 civilians from the risky mining area.
He says no one can be indifferent when civilians are dying in gold mines, yet thousands of people continue to rush to mining sites which from every indication are dangerous. He says while deporting the illegal gold miners, rescue workers and Cameroon military will also search to remove corpses and save the lives of people who may still be trapped in the collapsing mines.
Cameroon said it deployed its rescue workers, military and police to Kambele to clear the area of illegal miners and make sure foreign illegal miners either obtain their residence and mining permits or leave.
The military is prohibiting miners from visiting risk zones where trenches dug to harvest gold are collapsing. Baba Bell, traditional ruler of Kambele says some civilians may have drown in trenches filled with water from heavy rains.
He says every year during the rainy season as from the months of April, so many gold mines collapse leaving many people severely wounded or dead. He says a majority of the victims are unemployed Cameroonian youths who flood his village in search of opportunities. He says several hundred foreigners from Congo Brazzaville, Central African Republic, China and Senegal are in his village.
Hilaire Kembe is a Cameroon illegal gold miner at Kembele village. He says it is impossible to know the exact number of dead or wounded people in May in Kambele.
He says miners do not report when they discover fresh corpses and human bones at mining sites because of fear that they will be held for several weeks at police posts for interrogations. He says several hundred villagers and foreign miners whose identities are unknown prefer digging for gold at night when Cameroon police and military retire to their barracks. He says it is difficult to know when the night miners are buried by collapsing soils.
Cameroon says some of the illegal miners are displaced persons fleeing the conflict in CAR and fleeing from Boko Haram terrorist groups on its northern border with Nigeria. Some are escaping from the Anglophone separatist fighters in the country’s English-speaking western regions.
The government has always prohibited unauthorized people from digging in the area. But many youths ignore the order saying that they are unemployed.