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We own the forest

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–Fight continues in Rivercess for forest

Following recent clashes over a stretch of forest land, citizens of Opa Village in Doerwein Clan and Jay Village in Topoe Clan, Rivercerss County have provided conflicting accounts on ownership of the forest.

Clashes between the two towns over the stretch of forest land led to injuries of two persons and burning down of several homes.

Our reporter said latest of the clashes, which occurred on December 8, 2020 prevented several residents of both towns from voting, forcing them to seek refuge in nearby forest.

Speaking to this paper in an exclusive interview during a tour of the county recently, the Town Chief of Opa Village, Joseph Kofi, said the forest in question is legitimately owned by them, noting that the dwellers of Jay Village are “strangers” who migrated from afar and settled there without their knowledge.

Chief Kofi continued that they had written several communications to their counterparts, informing them about ownership of the forest, but no reply.

“The forest is for us; we are the rightful owners. Where those people came is about eight hours’ walk and they came there to settle without our knowledge. So we held a meeting as a town and wrote them again, but they refused to come to our call. We also wrote other authorities but no response,” he added.

Chief Kofi explained that the first clash was triggered by information that residents of Jay Village through their authorities were trying to give the forest out to an agricultural company.

He said that clash led to the shooting of two residents of Opa Village and complete burning down of Jay Village.

“We heard that they were giving the land to an agricultural company to invest so we went there to prevent that from happening because the land doesn’t belong to them. So we went there with our cutlasses to prevent that from happening, but we didn’t carry gun, [however] before we reached the iron bridge, I heard gun firing and two of our men got wounded.”

He identified the two wounded persons only as Ericson and Jacob. Chief Kofi indicated that Ericson sustained serious bullet wound, while Jacob’s sustained minor wound.

While pointing accusing fingers at Jay Village for the firing of two his kinsmen, Chief Kofi denied claim that Jay Village was burned down by his men from Opa Village.

The second in a series of the two clashes also led to the burning of a house in Opa Village allegedly by forces from Jay Village on Election Day.

“I don’t know who burned the houses in Jay Village, but all I can say is that they fired two of our men and came here just this gone election day and burned down one of our houses. I am saying so, because they said they were going to do so because they think we are the ones who burned their town,” Chief Joseph Kofi added.

The clashes have also resulted to the arrest of several persons from both towns, including the Town Chief of Jay Village, Daniel Doegoto.

When contacted, the Assistant Town Chief of Jay Village, Mr. Jonah Whea in Logan Town, where he and several other residents of Jay Village are seeking refuge, countered that the conflict was instead, orchestrated by people of Opa Village, who first attacked them with cutlasses for the forest.

“For us, we are a peaceful group of people. We don’t know anything about fighting, especially for a mere forest land. But to our surprise, a group from Opa Village, about 62 men in total well-armed with cutlasses attacked us one early morning and told us to leave and that how the conflict started”, Chief Whea explained.

Contrary to Chief Kofi’s assertions, Chief Whea denied claims that the firing of the two residents of Opa Village was done by his men.

“They told us to leave and while some of us have left and others were leaving, I heard firing sound but I don’t know who did that firing. Even they, from Opa Village didn’t really see who did that firing.”

He also denied claims by his counterpart, Chief Kofi that they were in negotiation with a company for a possible contract for the disputed forest.

However, he admitted that there was discussion ongoing between the town and an agricultural company for another forest and not the disputed one.

“The first thing is, the forest in question which they’re claiming that we want to give out is under contract for 25 years with a logging company called EJ and J. And so we could not have negotiated a forest that is under contract for 25 years,” he noted.

“You don’t have to be a big bookman; you can’t give out a forest that has an ownership for 25 years. They land we were discussing with the company about was an old piece of land. It was a land that left over after we did the demarcation line. The people only came here to embarrass us. Now, from where I am seeking refuge, I can beg for food before I eat,” he stated.

Chief Whea also denied claim that the men from Jay Village are responsible for the burning of a house in Opa Village on Election Day.

“We don’t know anything about that. That was done by an unknown person, who, no one saw,” he maintained.

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