Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers have been captured in a video clip that has gone viral abusing people caught cutting down trees in Dzalanyama Forest Reserve in Lilongwe.
MDF has confirmed the development exposed through the leaked video clip showing soldiers carrying guns physically assaulting civilians allegedly caught in the act of either cutting down trees or ferrying charcoal from the forest.
In the clip, one of the soldiers dressed in MDF camouflage uniform is heard saying this was being done to stop the civilians from engaging in the illicit trade, which is leading to the depletion of forest cover.
Said the soldier in the video: “Were you not told that we are working here?”
The soldiers are also seen commanding the suspects to lie straight on their tummies while continuously being hit with blunt pangas.
In the one minute seven seconds video clip, six men are seen being tortured by about three soldiers.
MDF spokesperson lieutenant colonel Francis Kakhuta Banda confirmed watching the video clip and said investigations into the matter are underway.
Said Kakhuta Banda: “We are aware of the clip in question. In fact, we know of allegations that MDF soldiers are physically assaulting people caught in Dzalanyama Forest. However, these are isolated incidences, but we are investigating and once the soldiers are found, they are going to be disciplined.”
Dzalanyama Forest Reserve, which is a catchment area for Lilongwe River where Lilongwe Water Board (LWB) gets its water, has been under constant threat of extinction due to uncontrollable cutting down of trees to feed the growing demand for charcoal and firewood in the capital city amid decimal access to electricity.
The charcoal burning has resulted in siltation in the river due to erosion.
LWB public relations officer Trevor Phoya said in an interview the soldiers’ presence at Dzalanyama Forest Reserve is a result of efforts by different stakeholders to address the challenge of deforestation.
Besides LWB and MDF with the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) at the helm, other stakeholders in the conservation of Dzalanyama Forest Reserve include the Department of Forestry, Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica), Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) and Lilongwe District Council.