* Follows crackdown on illegal mining
* Humala trying to manage 200 environmental disputes
LIMA, March 14 At least three protesters
were killed and 32 people wounded on Wednesday as police in
southeastern Peru clashed with wildcat, or illegal, miners
opposed to a government crackdown on unauthorized gold mining,
the interior minister and the ombudsman's office said.
Seven of those hurt in the Amazon region of Madre de Dios
were policemen. The clash was the latest test for President
Ollanta Humala, who has vowed to defuse some 200 disputes
nationwide over natural resources in one of the world's top
Humala has sought to calm social conflicts by ramping up
welfare programs and urging mediation to avert violence that
plagued his predecessor, Alan Garcia. More than 100 people died
in environmental protests during Garcia's term. So far, four
people have died in protests since Humala took office in July.
The government is trying to stop informal gold mining in the
Amazon region by seizing dredging equipment and setting it
ablaze. Wildcat mining has been blamed for turning swaths of
rain forest into a toxic desert and polluting rivers with
mercury used to isolate gold.
"We've detained 40 people and we are trying to catch the
leaders of illegal mining that caused this problem," Interior
Minister Daniel Lozada told reporters.
Wildcat miners from Madre de Dios, a restive region on the
border with Brazil, are politically active.
Eulogio Amado Romero, a congressman from Madre de Dios, was
suspended from Humala's coalition in September for having ties
to wildcat gold mining.
Romero, who is known by the nickname Come Oro, or Gold
Eater, has denied local media reports that he helped organize
"Violence has occurred today because the protesters have
blocked key roads," said Guimo Loaiza of Peru's ombudsman's
office in Madre de Dios. "They responded with sticks and stones
when police tried to restore order."
Wildcat miners are demanding the government throw out
decrees Humala issued that toughen laws against illegal mining
and give the government more power to seize their equipment.
"The decrees have demonized us and turned us into
criminals," said Julio Luna, a leader of the wildcat miners.
BILLION DOLLAR INDUSTRY
Peru is a leading producer of copper, zinc, and silver. It
is the world's sixth-largest gold producer.
Madre de Dios produces about 19 million fine grams of gold a
year, or about 10 to 15 percent of Peru's annual output. Some
40,000 people in the region are involved in wildcat mining or
depend on it. It is a billion dollar industry in Madre de Dios.
Poor Peruvians seeking jobs have migrated to the jungle as
gold hovers near record prices of $1,640 an ounce.
Rough-and-tumble boomtowns near mining camps are full of bars,
brothels, shops selling mercury, and middlemen who buy and sell
"The real promoters of illegal mining are organized mafias
that exploit men, women and children, who work in slave-like
conditions," said Pedro Martinez, head of Peru's association of
mining and oil companies, which represents large producers.
Even as it cracks down on wildcat mining, the government has
encouraged the construction of big, modern mines - like the $4.8
billion Conga gold project of U.S.-based Newmont Mining.
That project has been delayed by local community opposition
over concerns it would replace a series of alpine lakes in the
northern region of Cajamarca with artificial reservoirs.