One dead, 32 hurt as wildcat miners clash with Peru police

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 14, 2012 2:21 PM
One dead, 32 hurt as wildcat miners clash with Peru police

LIMA (Reuters) - At least one protester was killed and 32 people were injured on Wednesday as police in southeastern Peru clashed with wildcat miners opposed to a government crackdown on illegal gold mining, the interior minister and the ombudsman's office said.

Seven of those hurt in the Amazon region of Madre de Dios were policemen, officials said of the incident, which comes as President Ollanta Humala tries to manage some 200 disputes nationwide over natural resources in one of the world's top metals exporters.

Two people have died in protests since Humala took office in July. Humala has sought to defuse social conflicts by urging mediation to avert violence that plagued his predecessor, Alan Garcia. More than 100 people died in environmental protests that turned violent during Garcia's term.

The government is trying to stop informal gold mining in the Amazon region by seizing dredging equipment and other tools. The mining has been blamed for turning swaths of rainforest into a toxic desert and polluting rivers with mercury used to isolate gold.

"We've detained 40 people and we are trying to catch the leaders of illegal mining that caused this problem," Interior Minister Daniel Lozada told reporters. "The clashes caused one death, which is unfortunate."

Wildcat miners from Madre de Dios, a restive region on the border with Brazil, are politically active.

Eulogio Amado Romero, a congressman from Madre de Dios, was suspended from Humala's coalition in September for having ties to wildcat gold mining.

Romero - who is known by the nickname Come Oro, or Gold Eater - has denied local media reports that he helped organize the protests.

"Violence has occurred today because the protesters have blocked key roads," said Guimo Loaiza of Peru's ombudsman's office in Madre de Dios. "They responded with sticks and stones when police tried to restore order."

Wildcat miners are demanding the government throw out decrees Humala issued that toughen laws against illegal mining and give the government more power to seize their equipment.

"The decrees have demonized us and turned us into criminals," said Julio Luna, a leader of the wildcat miners.

Even as it cracks down on wildcat mining the government has encouraged the construction of big, modern mines - like the $4.8 billion Conga gold project of U.S.-based Newmont Mining.

That project has been delayed by local community opposition to the project over concerns it would replace a series of alpine lakes in the northern region of Cajamarca with artificial reservoirs.

(Reporting By Omar Mariluz, Enrique Mandujano, Teresa Cespedes and Terry Wade; Editing by David Brunnstrom and Cynthia Osterman)