Romania pledges to examine fate of villagers threatened by coal mine

LONDON, May 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Senior government ministers in Romania have agreed to examine the fate of the people of the village of Runcurel who face losing their homes to make way for a coal mine, a charity helping the villagers said on Friday.

Representatives of Bankwatch, a financial watchdog group, and environmental charity Greenpeace met Energy Minister Vlad Grigorescu in Bucharest and Minister for Public Consultation and Civic Dialogue Violeta Alexandru on Friday, a spokesman said.

The meeting came just days after the Thomson Reuters Foundation reported the villagers’ story, recounting their battle for compensation from the state-owned energy holding company, Oltenia Energy Complex (OEC).

Bankwatch Romania’s Alexandru Musat said the ministers had been “largely unaware” of the situation in Runcurel in Romania’s southwest, where villagers have been battling for years over their homes and were told at Christmas to move out in 30 days.

He said Alexandru offered her apologies for not responding to the villagers’ complaints earlier.

“She described the situation in Runcurel as ‘frightening’ and invited us to collaborate on finding future solutions,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The villagers had been protesting over moves to expand one of OEC’s 12 lignite (brown coal) mines which involved expropriating their homes and orchards.

Government officials have said expanding the mine “would increase Romania’s energy security and promote indigenous energy sources”.

But the battle escalated just before Christmas last year when villagers received a letter giving them 30 days to clear their homes in exchange for one euro ($1.14) per 1 square metre (1.2 square yards) of land.

Helped by Bankwatch and Greenpeace, the villagers filed a case to sue the government on March 18 in a bid to reverse the reclamation decision.

Musat said the meeting on Friday was also attended by Energy Ministry state secretary Corina Popescu and three senior advisers and they discussed complaints that no compensation was paid for assets linked to the land - homes, orchards and crops.

He said the ministerial delegation had agreed to two significant commitments.

First they agreed to relocate or rebuild houses deemed in the way of the coal mine, and also they agreed to send representatives of the energy company to Runcurel to embark on formal consultations to resolve compensation.

The Romanian Ministry for Public Consultation uploaded photographs of the meeting afterward.

Greenpeace and Bankwatch have campaigned on behalf of the village since Dec. 9 when, backed by government executive decree, the mine was declared a project of national importance and attempts to reach a deal with villagers abandoned.

A detailed list of questions has now been provided to the government, Musat said.

These included an explanation of how land is valued, if the company will pay for assets related to the land such as crops and homes, and if the promised relocation to a nearby village is still feasible.