A Malawian court has convicted 28 Zambians who were arrested last Sunday for illegally entering the country and settling in Kasungu National Park contrary to the Parks and Wildlife Acts sections 32, 33, 35 and 36 of the Republic of Malawi.
The Zambians were arrested during an operation Malawian officials from the Parks and Wildlife conducted on the western part of the national park which boarders Zambia and is prone to high-level encroachment and poaching.
When the Malawian officials arrived at a place called Mtenthe in the park they discovered that the Zambians had settled and were busy cutting down trees with an aim of picking caterpillars locally known as Matondo.
According to Kasungu National Park Law Enforcement Supervisor, Ndaona Kumanga, five of the Zambians were charged with illegal settlement while 23 were answering to various charges.
The charges include illegal entry into a protected area, residing in a protected area without permission, cultivating in a protected area without permit, illegal taking and destruction of trees in a protected area and also conveying offensive weapons into the park.
Appearing before the Kasungu Magistrate Court on Thursday, First Grade Magistrates Henz Kantchere and Kingsley Buleya ordered 20 of the accused to pay K45 000 each or serve three and half years in imprisonment with hard labour (IHL).
However, the court slapped the remaining eight with suspended sentences.
The magistrates said they had given the accused a stiffer punishment to act as warning to would-be offenders because the people were depriving the country of its tourism resources.
The illegal settlers, whose ages ranged from 17 to 54, are from Zambia’s eastern district of Chipata in the area of Traditional Authority Chanje.