In this photo taken Aug. 13, 2010, miner Juergen Plein, 29, speaks with the Associated Press at an open gold mine pit near the small town of Nieuw Koffiekamp on the edge of the Suriname’s rainforest. Plein said he needs the work, and doesn’t know any other way to get at the precious metal.
Associated Press / Andres Leighton, File

One of the hemisphere’s largest gold mines has temporarily closed its doors in the Caribbean Community nation of Suriname after wildcat miners panning for gold in areas near the mine clashed with police and security over mining rights resulting in the deaths of one miner and serious wounds to several others.

Production at the Gross Rosebel Mine in Brokopondo District, about 80 miles southwest of the capital Paramaribo, ground largely to a halt this week after tensions again boiled over concerning age-old demands by villagers to work alluvial gold pits near the very mineral-rich main facility. Rosebel is controlled by Canadian miner, IamGold.

Government rushed teams to the area to calm down simmering levels of tensions and hundreds of angry miners descended on the capital on Tuesday, lining up outside parliament demanding answers.

Successive administrations have grappled with the issue as to what to do with large groups of small wildcat miners panning for gold on the borders of large mines. The trouble, is in this instance, is that villages such as Nieuw Koffi Camp and others near the mine remain angry about being dislocated every time authorities think they should do so.

Decades ago, about 2000 people were relocated about 40 miles north to allow the area to be flooded as part of the Afobaka Hydro Dam. More recently, once gold was found in the area, they were again pushed aside and discommoded to allow for mine development.

So anger and resentment have simmered among the descendants of runaway Maroon slaves for decades. At least one organized group has reached agreement with mine officials about working in a formal way in areas near the mine but these have been constantly infiltrated by miners from other areas, attracted by what is referred to as a gold shout.

This week, tensions boiled over again about disorganization and illegal mining leading to clashes with police and mine security. When the dust cleared after authorities opened fire, one man was killed and a few others hospitalized. Colleagues descended on parliament, demanding that authorities put pressure on Rosebel to both take care of funeral expenses and arrange for some kind of a long term deal to take care of the dead miner’s family.

As tensions grew, management not only closed the mine, but ferried out hundreds of workers, saying their safety was not guaranteed. Police said miners caused extensive damage to property and equipment belonging to the company.

Wesley Rozenhout, the chair of the Federation of Small Miners blamed authorities for not properly organizing small miners and giving them, guarantees about a decent livelihood.

“It was to be expected that such an outburst would happen with tragic consequences.” He said heavily armed police had been deployed to other areas to expel small miners working to take care of families. Their equipment and personal belongings were destroyed,” he said.

Makamboa, the main organized group which had reached mining agreements with Rosebel for small miners, blamed infiltration by illegal miners and those from outside the district, for the chaos of this week.

“The entrepreneurs of Makamboa believe in dialogue and therefore call on parties to look for solutions through dialogue to stop the situation that has arisen and to ensure that all operations on the plant can progress in a safe and productive atmosphere in the interest of the sector.”

The latest developments are not good news for the administration of President Desi Bouterse who faces a general election next May. Polls show that his National Democratic Party may struggled to win a majority of 26 of the 51 seats as the Hindustani VHP and other parties are gaining ground and are capatilizing on the mistakes of government.

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