From: Arny Belfor, Associated Press
Published January 13, 2006 12:00 AM

World Wildlife Fund to Train Thousands of Gold Miners in Suriname to Protect Environment

PARAMARIBO, Suriname — The Suriname branch of the World Wildlife Fund said Thursday it would train about 12,000 gold miners to use new and environment friendly mining techniques.


These miners, many of whom work illegally, will be registered and trained to the new methods thanks to a US$150,000 (euro123,834) grant awarded Thursday by the Inter American Development Bank, said Jerrel Pinas, spokesman for WWF-Suriname.


Although precise figures have not been compiled, it is believed that the boom of small-scale and wildcat gold mining has caused serious mercury pollution in Suriname, Pinas said.


While large mines use cyanide in a controlled industrial circuit, most small-scale miners use mercury to separate the gold from other minerals they excavate. Dumped into rivers and streams, this mercury can cause irreparable ecological and health damages, he said.


"We want to make these miners aware that there are methods of mining which will benefit them, and the environment, more," Pinas said. Hopefully, the miners will be persuaded to switch to new methods during the 18 months training, he said. More environment friendly methods could include using mechanical means to extract the gold, or replacing mercury with less harmful chemicals.


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The training, due to begin in March, would also include the 240 holders of large gold mining concessions, the WWF-Suriname said.


To ensure better wildlife protection, the WWF-Suriname also wants to gain insight in the exact number of small-scale and wildcat gold miners operating in the country's interior.


Pinas said this registration process should be the government's responsibility.


"We don't want to do their job, but I think the government can benefit very much from the work we will do," he said.


Since the early 90's the influx of impoverished miners has led to a modern wild-west type gold-fever in Suriname. Authorities blame the mass arrival of some 8,000 miners from neighboring Brazil, along with about 4,000 Surinamese, for much of the lawlessness plaguing the country's gold-rich interior. Several land claim quarrels have occurred in recent months.


Last October one police officer was killed and a second wounded during a confrontation with a group of Brazilian gold miners, police said. No arrests were made and the investigation continues.


Source: Associated Press


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