Six people, including two policemen, have been accused of involvement in town mining in the Kono district.

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Inspector Kabbie Kells Kharr, the Operational Support Official of the Police Operation Support Division (OSD) at the Tankoro Police Divisional Headquarters, and Constable Sahr Ndomyina of the same division, were detained alongside four of their civilian collaborators last week by officers from the Motema Police Division. They were accused of engaging in mining activities at the Congo Bridge, which is located along the main highway leading into the district headquarter town of Koidu.

Superintendent Edward Yamba, Operations Commander at the Motema Police Division, identified the four civilians as Joshua Queewa, Jonathan Moikoa, Tamba Yarjah and David Kongweh. He said they’d confessed that they were working for Inspector Kharr.

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“They were mining on the main highway of Koidu for Inspector Kharr, the second in command at the operations department at the Tankoro Police Division,” Yamba told Politico, adding that Constable Ndomyina also indicated in his statement that it was the Inspector that was supporting their mining activities.

But according to Inspector Yamba, the civilian accomplishes have already been charged on Friday 22 March, at the Sefadu Magistrate Court, while the police officers were released and were performing their normal duties.

On the same day the civilian accused appeared in court, Inspector Kharr was spotted at the Koidu Secondary School controlling rival student groups who were engaged in fighting.

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Town mining is illegal in line with the 2009 Mines and Minerals Act, which forbids anyone from mining within a 200 meter radius of the town. Town mining poses a major environmental and livelihoods threat in Kono. But the involvement of security forces has made efforts to end the practice impossible.

Over 20 mining pits are thought to have been dug around the two bridges – Congo Cross Bridge and Mayifeh River Bridge – which environmentalists fear could lead to their destruction.

Superintendent Yamba said the two well armed OSD police officers in their uniform and the four civilians were arrested “on the spot” in the earlier hours of Friday April 15 April, at around 2am. He said they were caught by a patrol team after receiving a tip off. He said the rest of the accused, including the constable, all testified in their statements that Inspector Kharr was their sponsor, and that he’d bought all the mining equipments they were using and financed them to carry out the mining.

Inspector Yamba also said the detention of their colleague officers shouldn’t be misconstrued as a witch-hunt, but rather, it should be seen as an attempt at restoring the public’s confidence on the police in efforts to end illegal mining in the district.

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“The allegations against the police are not far from truth because it was the police that had mounted night checkpoints at the illegal mining sites with the aim of keeping away civilians from mining. If we still have checkpoints mounted there and at the same time the same mining activities are going on there, we have no reservation or regret to effect arrests on our own men who were mining there hence it falls within the operational boundary of the two divisions in the district,” he explained.

Yamba said they had sent the report on the arrest of the suspected police miners to the Regional Crime Officer in the Eastern Region, whose decision it was as to whether they should pursue the matter further.

Ibrahim Sahr Ahmed Bockarie, head of Campaign for Just Mining (CJM), a civil society organization in the district, hailed the action of the Mortema Police Divisions, although he said reports of the arrest did not come to them as a surprise. He said on several occasions the police in Kono had been seen in their uniforms engaging in mining on the main highway.

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However, Assistance Inspector General of Police, Alfred Karrow Kamara, who is the Regional Crime Officer in charge of Eastern Region, told Politico in a telephone interview that their findings revealed that Inspector Kharr was not part of the alleged town mining. He also said they’d released only the inspector, while the constable remained in custody, pending investigation.

CJM’s Bockarie said the statement of the AIG sounded like an exoneration, even before the CDIID’s investigation. He described it as “bias and prejudicing.”