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Kyrgyz president signs law allowing management of largest gold mine

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The Kumtor mine sits atop glaciers whose springtime meltwater feeds fresh water into the Naryn River, which flows toward Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.

BISHKEK — Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov has signed into law a bill that will allow the government to temporarily manage the Kumtor gold mine, a move the mine’s Canadian operator says is a thinly veiled attempt to push it out.

President Sadyr Japarov signs bill into law to take management of private gold company. File Photo

The bill was signed into law on May 14, eight days after it was approved by the Central Asian state’s parliament.

According to the law, if a company operating a concession agreement in Kyrgyzstan violates environmental regulations, damages or endangers the local environment or lives of people, or causes any other significant damage, the government has a right to take the company under its control for three months.

Kyrgyzstan map.

Also see: Questioning the environmental cost of Kyrgyzstan’s Kumtor Gold Mine https://www.rferl.org/a/kyrgyzstan-kumtor-gold-mine-environmental-/25003485.html

Kumtor Gold Company is the only company in the former Soviet republic that operates on a concession agreement.

Centerra Gold, Kumtor Gold Company’s majority owner, has said that the goal of the move is to justify ongoing calls to nationalize the gold mine or force the Canadian company to leave.

Japarov has been known since 2012 to be a strong supporter of nationalizing the Kumtor mine, which is located in his native Issyk-Kul region in the country’s northeast.

He has accused Centerra Gold of corruption and damaging the local environment.

The Kumtor gold mine, and it operator, has long been a contentious issue in Kyrgyzstan.–RFE/RL

In 1998, one of Kumtor gold mine’s supply trucks crashed through a bridge, dumping more than a ton of toxic sodium cyanide into the Barskaun River. More than 2,500 people were poisoned.

The accident cost the mine $4.5 million in reparations and set the tone for years of discord between Kumtor’s Canadian owners and local Kyrgyz who say the mine has not done enough to compensate for environmental damage.

Thousands of protesters blocked roads and disrupted power supplies to the massive open-pit mine, demanding better ecological standards and free medical facilities. Kyrgyz officials have declared a state of emergency in the district surrounding the mine.

Many ordinary Kyrgyz see the Kumtor mine, situated 4,000 meters above sea level in Kyrgyzstan’s pristine Tien Shan mountains, as an ecological time bomb.

“Our women are giving birth prematurely. Our sheep and cows are suffering,” said one protester. “Dear leaders, we’re asking very kindly. We don’t need gold. We don’t need silver. We need clean water, healthy and good lives.”

Japarov led a mass protest at Kumtor in 2013, demanding its nationalization, that turned violent and led to the kidnapping of a local governor, Emil Kaptagaev.

In 2017, Japarov was found guilty of the kidnapping and sentenced to more than 10 years in prison. He maintains the charges against him were politically motivated.

In October 2020, Japarov was among several prominent politicians freed from prison by protesters during anti-government rallies that were sparked by disputed parliamentary elections.

The unrest led to the downfall of the government and the resignation of then-President Sooronbai Jeenbekov.

Japarov was then named acting president and prime minister. He later stepped down to be eligible for the presidential poll on January 10, which he won easily.

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