Asanko Mines, Tontokrom Youth Clash Over Job Again
…Uses Armed Men, Police To Terrorize Residents
A harmless quest by hundreds of unemployed youths of Tontokrom and its environs, a mining community in the Amansie South District in the Ashanti Region, to lay their hands on some jobs to keep body and soul together, is likely to lead to bloodshed, if concerned authorities fail to handle the situation promptly.
This follows the latest fierce clash between large scale mining firm, Asanko Gold Mines, and the Tontokrom youths, after the firm stormed the area with fully-armed police, soldiers and some heavily built men suspected of being land guards.
Eyewitnesses told The Anchor that, but for the huge presence of the angry youths, who outnumbered the Asanko Gold Mine’s armed men, the incident would have been bloody.
Amidst sporadic gunshots last Saturday, July 15, the youths massed up in their numbers to face off with the armed men, numbering about 40, after they had been brought all the way from Accra to the area in buses and V8 Land Cruiser vehicles, to terrorize and ward off the youths from the company’s concession.
Videos and pictures of the incident, sighted by this paper, showed as many as 37 empty cartridges scattered on the ground. It is unclear, whether the armed men, deployed to the area by Asanko Mines, were sanctioned by the state security hierarchy.
The young men and women, who have been agitating for sometime over employment and untold hardship, are fighting the South African firm for taking their livelihood from them.
As a result, the company, which is working to mine gold on a piece of land in the area, has been encountering fierce resistance from the youth, who are also begging government to use a portion of the same land to establish its community mining programme to offer jobs to the teeming youth.
Because of the stiff resistance, the firm has for some time now been employing some rough tactics, including the use of armed police and soldiers, to confront the youth, to ostensibly put fear in them to pave the way for its mining activities.
Residents told The Anchor that, this is not the first time Asanko Mines is clashing with the youth, using armed soldiers and the police.
This paper is informed that, as early as 6am, the team of armed men had arrived on the disputed land to provide protection and ward off any challenger.
But their presence attracted the townsfolk, especially the youth, who thronged the area to face the armed men.
Though without any weapons, the young men started agitating, questioning the presence of the armed men.
Spokesperson for the youth, Kwame Animoyam, said they were informed Asanko Mines tasked the armed men from Accra to come and protect the land.
The officers and their collaborators, this paper is informed, had come in seven vehicles, including some Toyota mini-buses and Land Cruisers, supposedly belonging to the mining firm.
“This morning, we noticed Asanko Mines have brought in machomen, policemen and soldiers, numbering 40. There was no military car, it was only Asanko vehicles. There were three police officers who were captured by camera. There were also soldiers in a Land Cruiser, but only one alighted. They were in the vehicles in their numbers,” Kwame told The Anchor, after the officers took to their heels.
The agitation by the youth, according to Kwame, infuriated the ‘machomen’ among the officers, who tried to disperse them with several warning shots.
Unfortunately for them, per a number of videos intercepted by The Anchor, the youth acted unperturbed, but went on to warn them to vacate the land.
“There was agitation so the machomen gave several warning shots and their guns were only pump action,” he said.
According to him, pictures and videos of some 37 cartridges, sighted by this paper, were fired solely by the machomen, whom he also referred to as land guards. But none of the police officers or soldiers fired a shot.
“The police did not fire, but they watched on as the machomen fired. They told us their mission was that Asanko brought them because they have a land there, but some people are refusing to allow them to mine so they have been brought to come and live on the land to protect it.
“So, they came as a result of that, but they are reverting to their base because of the way the townsfolk thronged the area to question them about their presence on the land. So, they have gone back to where they came from,” the youth leader concluded.
For some time now, the youths from Tontokrom and its surrounding communities have fiercely been resisting every attempt by the firm to mine on the land, and they are accusing it of denying them the opportunity to work and feed their families.
According to them, several applications to government to launch its flagship Community Mining Scheme in the area, with a population of over 10,000 youths, to get jobs to do, have been blocked by the management of Asanko, leaving many of them idle.
They mentioned that, even though the portion of the land the youth are asking for is just a small area, less than 20 acres, which is just one concession, the South African mining giant appears not ready to release it.
Last month, the youth organized a peaceful demonstration during the launch of the Community Mining Scheme at Atwimanso community, near the area, by a deputy minister of Lands and Natural Resources, George Mireku Duker.
The youth, numbering more than 400, wielding placards, stormed the programme to communicate their grievances and request to the deputy minister, to have a similar one launched in their community too.
The youth, who thanked the deputy minister and the government for the initiative in the adjoining town, said it would be much appreciated if the gesture is extended to the over 10, 000 population in Tontokrom.
Mr. Duker, who is in-charge of mining at the ministry, before his main speech, took time to address the youth, assuring them that he has taken into account their plea and so will task the district chief executive (DCE) and the Member of Parliament (MP) for the area to look into their concerns and take the necessary action.