Blood gold in Bogota

The British mining giant Anglo American has been accused of profiting from the persecution, intimidation and killing of miners in Colombia who oppose the company’s operations.

The international charity War on Want says in a report released this week that Anglo American and its subsidiaries benefited from army operations in areas where the company is prospecting, which have forced families off their land and intimidated community leaders. It is part of a “pattern of global abuse” in countries where Anglo American operates, it says.

The report came on the day Anglo American, the world’s second largest mining company, announced its half-year results. Profits rose by 76% to $6,2-billion last year.

In Colombia, Anglo American’s subsidiary AngloGold Ashanti is registered as Kedahda SA. The company is exploring several areas in the conflict-ridden San Lucas mountains, north-central Colombia, which hold one of South America’s richest gold deposits. It is seeking licences to prospect in more than 1,2-million hectares in the area. Communities that have been mining the mountains on a small scale for more than 25 years oppose the presence of the mining company, fearing for their livelihoods. And they have paid dearly for it, say community leaders.

Teofilo Acuna, president of a miners’ association in the San Lucas mountains, was arrested by the army in April and held for 10 days on what turned out to be trumped-up charges that he was a member of leftist guerrilla groups that operate in the region. “It’s no secret that the rebels are there,” said Acuna. “But the army doesn’t go after the guerrillas. It persecutes the community.”

The soldiers of the Nueva Granada battalion have publicly told the communities their mission was to protect the interests of Kedahda, said Acuna. The charge of “terrorism” against him was based on the fact that he presided over meetings to oppose Kedahda’s presence in the area and because he organised a march to protest at the killing by soldiers of Alejandro Uribe, also a miners’ leader, last September.

The military said Uribe was a guerrilla killed in combat. But lawyer Jorge Molano, who represents the miners, said forensic analysis showed he was shot in the back at close range. In October 2006, another community leader was killed by the Nueva Granada battalion, which later claimed his killing was a “military error”.

War on Want does not blame Anglo- Gold Ashanti directly for the rights abuses in the region. But the organisation’s campaign director, Ruth Tanner, said the company had benefited from the army’s actions. “The key thing is that the company’s presence is fuelling conflict,” she said.

Kedahda has applied for mining concessions in 37 municipalities of Narino province near the border with Ecuador, a focal point of skirmishes between government forces and Farc rebels, according to a report published last month by local rights groups. Those municipalities coincide with areas where civilians have been subjected to “cruel, inhumane and demeaning acts”, the report said.

Mike Faessler, Kedahda’s director of security, acknowledged that the company had two platoons from the Colombian army’s 5th brigade “on loan” to protect an exploration operation in the region because the “security situation is pretty dicey”.

But he said the firm was unaware of the persecution of community leaders by the military. He said the complaints against AngloGold Ashanti came from “people out there with an agenda against big mining and big business”.

“There’s a perception that because we’re in a certain area there’s going to be violence, but the truth is they are violent areas anyway,” he said.—Â



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