ANANEA, Peru (AP) — Hundreds of Peruvian police officers using oxygen tanks climbed high into the snowcapped Andes to destroy 18 work camps belonging to illegal gold miners.
The operation took place Friday near Ananea Mountain nearly 5,000 meters (16,400 feet) above sea level along Peru's border with Bolivia.
Authorities put a high premium on destroying the installations, which included heavy machinery and motorized water pumps, in order to protect water sources that drain into Lake Titicaca, the largest body of freshwater in South America.
To carry out the operation, roughly 1,000 police officers had to brave thin air, frigid temperatures and the hostile reaction of wildcat miners who have destroyed large swaths of the Andean range over the past 15 years.
Peru is Latin America's largest producer of gold but in recent years has seen its jungles and rivers contaminated by a boom in unauthorized wildcat mining. Officials estimate as much as 5 percent of the 141 metric tons of gold extracted last year was mined illegally.
Associated Press writer Franklin Briceno in Lima contributed to this report.