QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuador on Tuesday mobilized hundreds of soldiers and police to a mountainous area to confront illegal mining and organized crime that have fueled violence in the north of the country, the interior minister said.
The South American nation is hoping to fuel its sluggish economy by expanding its mining sector. It has drawn the interest firms including Australia’s SolGold Plc, which is developing a copper, gold and silver mine in northern Ecuador.
The security forces began the operation on Tuesday morning in the small town of Buenos Aires, near the border with Colombia, following months of heavy confrontations between illegal miners and gangs, who want control of the mineral-rich area.
“The occupation of the area by people engaged in these illegal activities requires stronger intervention by the state,” Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo told reporters, adding that the results of the operation would be announced later.
On Monday night, the government of President Lenin Moreno declared a state of emergency in the area, which has also suffered environmental devastation from the influx of thousands of people and growth of illegal mining.
“There is a serious environmental impact,” Romo said.
Some 10,000 people now work in illegal mining in Buenos Aires, which Romo says has a population of around 2,000. Armed gangs are increasingly involved in human trafficking and prostitution.
The region witnessed 27 incidents of violence in the first half of 2019, including murders by stabbing and firearms, the government said on Monday.
Reporting by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Lisa Shumaker