Viphya Plantation Timber Millers Union has accused Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers of burning money and committing several atrocities in the course of evacuating illegal timber millers in the forest.
Since government started deploying MDF soldiers to protect forests, a number of people have criticised it for engaging the soldiers, arguing that the soldiers handle people harshly.
On Monday, a member of the union, Lucy Munthali, alleged that the soldiers burnt her office where she kept K500 000 ($683) which she had just received from a customer.
“On that day, I had just got money from a customer. I left the money in the office and went to check some activities in the forest. However, it transpired that MDF started chasing people out of the forest and they set my office on fire. The money was burnt there,” said Munthali.
She said workers in the forest are also being harshly treated as the soldiers beat up people and force them to eat uncooked relish.
Another member, Grant Nambala, said Munthali was just one of the victims. He said several people have lost money and property since MDF started chasing millers out of the plantation.
He said some of the millers being chased are there legally but are suffering because the soldiers do not cross-check who should be in the forest or not.
Nambala said the atrocities being committed by the soldiers are so severe that the union fears some lives might be lost.
The union’s task force vice-president Arthur Chipeta said the approach being taken by government to drive out the timber millers is oppressive, and stressed that members will voice out concerns against the acts when they demonstrate shortly.
MDF spokesperson Paul Chiphwanya did not pick up his phone when called for comment.
But Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mines spokesperson responsible for environment and climate change, Sangwani Phiri, said the union’s claims were scapegoats.
He said government terminated contracts and asked members to leave, but most of them disrespected the decision.
“The union members are cooking up stories to taint MDF’s image and are doing all they can to gain public sympathy,” he said.