* Police, contractor say geologists' camp attacked twice
* Villagers in Batken region complain of environmental
* Local opposition, anti-mining rhetoric deter investment
By Olga Dzyubenko
BISHKEK, Nov 29 Villagers in southern Kyrgyzstan
have attacked a camp of geologists working for a Russian
gold-mining company, accusing them of damaging the environment.
Residents of a village in Batken region raided the camp,
owned by small private miner Almazintex, on two separate
occasions this month after calls to halt exploration at the site
were ignored, a police spokesman and the camp operator said.
"Property was set ablaze. A criminal investigation is under
way," local police spokesman Talaibek Susumbayev told Reuters on
A new government in Kyrgyzstan, an impoverished former
Soviet republic that hosts both Russian and U.S. military air
bases, is seeking foreign investors to mine gold, coal and other
minerals and bolster its fragile economy.
Mining is crucial to the economy of the Central Asian state,
which has contracted this year largely to declining output at
the Kumtor mine, owned by Canada's Centerra Gold. The
mine alone contributed 12 percent of the gross domestic product
The only road to the high-altitude Kumtor mine has been
sporadically blocked by protestors, while a spate of attacks on
other mining camps in the last 18 months - often with the
support of nationalist politicians - has dented investor
In Batken province, the first attack on the Aprelskoye gold
deposit occurred on Nov. 19. About 150 villagers stole food,
fuel and personal possessions from the geologists, said Vladimir
Smirnov, head of the company contracted to run the camp.
Seventy people returned on Nov. 22, setting fire to a rail
wagon used as a makeshift dwelling and seizing drill equipment.
Nobody was harmed in the attack.
"They are demanding an end to geological work and that the
deposit be recultivated," said Atambek Botoyev, deputy governor
of Batken region. He said villagers had accused the company of
contaminating a local river with chemicals.
This was denied by Sergei Yurchenko, head of A.Z.
International, the subsidiary of Almazintex responsible for the
gold deposit. He said the company had built roads and bridges
over nearly a decade of work in the region.
"Perhaps someone wants to take the licence away from us. Or
perhaps people have been paid to do this - the population is,
after all, very poor," Yurchenko said.
Villagers have frequently raised environmental concerns and
demanded a greater share of proceeds at deposits nationwide. But
opposition politicians have also adopted anti-mining rhetoric as
a means to rally nationalist supporters against the government.
Three opposition members of parliament are awaiting trial on
charges of trying to stage a coup after leading a crowd of
demonstrators in a failed attempt last month to storm government
headquarters in a protest over the Kumtor mine.
Kyrgyzstan was forced to cancel the sale of its first batch
of mining licences under new legislation after protesters
stormed a televised auction on Aug. 28.
Other enterprises have been attacked, including a
Chinese-owned venture, a copper and gold deposit in Talas
province owned by South Africa's Gold Fields and a
construction firm working for London-listed Chaarat Gold