Saamaka community demands govt. prevent industry encroachment on pristine territory

Saamaka community demands govt. prevent  industry encroachment on pristine territory

PARAMARIBO, Suriname--Suriname must protect the Saamaka Maroons in the country's interior and prevent further encroachment on their lands by extractive industries such as logging, the Association of Saamaka Communities said on Wednesday.

Around 80 Saamaka Maroons, mostly women, arrived in Suriname's capital, Paramaribo, after hours of travelling from the country's south, to present the government with a petition seeking environmental protections for the regions they call home.

While Suriname's government touts the country's green credentials – much of its territory is covered in pristine jungle – recent decisions to open the country up to bauxite mining and other extractive activities have raised concerns among environmental groups.

Suriname's southern region, which borders Brazil, is covered in Amazon rainforest.

"The Saamaka are constantly confronted with the violation of their rights and the destruction of the forest that has increased at a rapid pace," according to the petition, which was signed by 4,500 people.

The petition was received by a representative of President Chan Santokhi, as well as Marinus Bee, the speaker of Suriname's parliament.

Bee told reporters he would discuss the issues raised in the petition with Santokhi, who did not immediately comment on the matter.

In 2007, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that the Surinamese government must stop awarding logging and mining concessions in the Saamaka peoples' territory.

In a report published last week, advocacy group the International Land Coalition said that, despite the ruling, Suriname's government persistently grants concessions for logging and mining on Saamaka territory, without getting free prior and informed consent from the communities first.

The government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

According to the Saamaka petition, an illegal road stretching 43 kilometres was built through their territory last year.

"That road has exposed the most pristine forest to indiscriminate mining, logging and poaching," the petition said.

The Saamaka, descendents of formerly enslaved Africans who fought Dutch colonisers for their freedom, are one of six tribal peoples in Suriname, making up some 20% of the country's total population. ~ Reuters ~

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