08/09/2019, 10.25
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Kyrgyz against Chinese gold miners: they are "invaders, exploiters and pollute the waters"

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Kyrgyz and Chinese workers clash leaving 40 people injured.  A sit-in in front of the Chinese company for the government to withdraw the mining license.  High technology and corruption privilege Chinese contractors.


Bishkek (AsiaNews) - A standoff is underway at a gold mine in Solton-Sari, in the Narynsk region.  The inhabitants are demanding an immediate halt to the activities of the Chinese Zhong Ji Mining company, which is in partnership with a local company.  On 5 August, Kyrgyz and Chinese workers clashed and 40 people were hospitalized.

Several representatives of the Kyrgyz authorities came to the scene, such as the deputy prime minister and minister Kubatbek Boronov and interior minister Kashkar Dzhunushaliev.  Prime Minister Mukhammedkalyj Abylgaziev has called a meeting in the capital Bishkek, where he stated that "accidents between local and foreign residents must not become grounds for suspension or cessation of the company's work".  In his words, the government is aware of the problems in the field of mining in the mountains of the country: "I deal with this issue every day, and I keep everything personally under control.  These are problems that have accumulated over the years, and require profound reflection, as well as decisive actions, but always within the limits of the law ".

The prime minister fears that the clashes are causing such difficulties to production that they will discourage international investors.  The agreements in place date back to 2009, but the problems have arisen since 2010, and always with the Chinese.  According to the director of the analytical center "East-West Strategy" Dmitry Orlov, it is the Chinese who cause conflicts of interest among many partners involved.

The gold strand of the Solton-Sari is located 355 kilometers from Bishkek, and is divided into three sections:  the Chinese work in the first one after obtaining a license valid until 2033;  in the second has been given to private partners, the third the state.  The Chinese are building extracted gold processing plants and other infrastructure, effectively becoming the leaders of the entire mine.

The conflict began when 500 residents of Narynsk province asked for work to be stopped and all Chinese workers expelled.  Fruitless negotiations spilled over into physical confrontation.  The Chinese group was the most affected and the Chinese equipment was attacked and destroyed in part.

An important Kyrgz politician, Ms. Toktajm Umelatieva made some statements to Nezavisimaja Gazeta, explaining that the crowd that is demonstrating near the mine is increasing, with appeals via social media to the Kyrgyz citizens to come and defend their compatriots.  "It is a spontaneous gathering to defend the pastures in the territories of the area, given that the Chinese do not comply with the rules of ecological safety and water sources."  The population suffers the strong polluting impact of Chinese activities, and accuses the Chinese company of poisoning the lands and waters, with serious consequences for livestock.

The protesters question the 2009 licenses and accuse serious violations of the rules and widespread corruption.  Meanwhile, companies that do not have access to substantial funds to obtain "lightened" licenses, but not even to install adequate technologies, would find themselves on the verge of closure.  According to Umelatieva, the level of corruption would reach such high levels that only a direct intervention by President Xi Jinping could resolve the situation.

Mining activities are perhaps the only effective and thriving source of development in Kyrgyzstan, and the fighting cannot be reduced to a local skirmish.  The population protests, the slogan "defend our land", express widespread discontent with the country's political and economic elite, branded as corrupt and far from the people;  all foreign investors, starting with the Chinese, are considered invaders and exploiters.  Kyrgyzstan one of the most fragile countries in Central Asia and could become a hotbed of revolt for the whole region.

Meanwhile in other news, the Kyrgyz police have managed to arrest the former president Almazbek Atambayev.  A first attempt had been made two days ago, but had failed due to the resistance of groups in defense of Atambayev.  In the clashes, 79 people were injured and a policeman died in the hospital following his injuries.

Atambayev's supporters had also taken six policemen hostage, then released during the day yesterday.  Later, more policemen, with tear gas and stun grenades, managed to break into Atambayev's house and arrest him.

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