Ghana sends in army to enforce mining ban near rivers and lakes

A woman carries firewood next to a stream polluted by gold mining waste in Nsuaem district, western Ghana November 23, 2018. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra/File Photo

ACCRA, April 28 (Reuters) - Ghana's military has launched a nationwide operation to clear illegal miners out of its water bodies, the West African country's lands minister said in on Wednesday.

Two hundred soldiers were deployed on Wednesday morning to lakes, rivers and waterways in the country's central and western regions to "remove all persons and logistics involved in mining", a statement said.

Pollution from mining has contaminated water sources across the country with mercury and heavy metals, raising the costs of water treatment and limiting access to drinking water, according to Ghana's water utility agency.

Ghana is one of Africa's largest gold producers, with gold products accounting for just under half its export revenues. Several of the world's top mining firms, including Newmont (NEM.N), Kinross (K.TO), and Anglogold Ashanti (ANGJ.J), operate gold mines there.

But more than 35% of the country's gold is unearthed by small-scale and informal miners, the majority of whom operate illegally, according to the finance ministry.

President Nana Akufo-Addo has made combating illegal mining one of his signature issues, repeatedly accusing miners of damaging the country's water bodies and environment.

"Mining becomes a danger to the society when, after extracting the gold, diamond, or other stones and minerals, the land is left degraded and poisoned with toxic materials," Akufo-Addo said in a speech earlier this month.

"The water bodies are turned into entities that can no longer support life, and plants and fish cannot survive in our rivers," he said.

Akufo-Addo first vowed to end illegal mining in 2017, and ordered what became the largest joint military-police action against illegal miners in the country's history.

His predecessor John Mahama created a military task force in 2013 that also used the army to conduct raids on small-scale mining operations.

Reporting by Christian Akorlie Writing by Cooper Inveen Editing by Nellie Peyton and Giles Elgood

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