The government and the activist community in Kyrgyzstan are at loggerheads over inexorably advancing proposals to legalize mining at a pair of environmentally sensitive glaciers.
After opponents of the changes to the law assembled in Bishkek on November 8 for a protest rally, the authorities convened a roundtable to bring all sides of the argument together.
Deputy prime minister Duishenbek Zilaliyev said at the event that the government had no choice but to go down this path, as carving away the Davydov and Lysyi glaciers is the only way of continuing operations at the economically vital, high-altitude Kumtor gold mine.
“The glaciers are sliding and threatening works at the mine, that is why the glaciers are being carried away. We are not just protecting the gold, we are for the nation’s welfare,” Zilaliyev said.
Reprising a line he has used elsewhere, Zilaliyev remarked that the Davydov and Lysyi glaciers can no longer be preserved and that the government’s actions will not affect any other locations.
The deputy head of the Emergency Situations Ministry meteorological center, Ryskeldi Asankozhoyev, meanwhile, said that the melting of the glaciers was in any case brought on by climate change.
“It has been established that global warming has contributed 93 percent toward the condition of the glaciers. Only 6.8 percent is down to development of the Kumtor goldmine,” Asankozhoyev said. It is not clear which research he was citing.
Dushen Kasenov, a member of the board with Kumtor Operating Company, a daughter entity of Toronto-based Centerra Gold, said that unless they can retrieve the projected 160 tons of gold from the mine, then the government will be left with a $150 million compensation for suspension of works.
Activists were indignant over all these lines of argument and were vocal in their views at the roundtable.
“We should put ecological issues in first place. Today I have seen how there are lobbying groups serving Kumtor’s interests. Why do we not lobby the interests of the people instead?” said Kalicha Umuraliyeva, head of a nongovernmental group called Our Right.
If anything, the roundtable succeeded only in sowing more discord between the sides, who remained as firm in their views as they were when they arrived.
The initiative to allow mining operations at glaciers in exceptional circumstances — which is how Kumtor is viewed — began to pick up momentum on November 2, when changes to the Water Code were supported by the parliament’s agrarian policy, water resources, ecology and regional development committee.
It is odd to see such an outbreak of goodwill between the authorities and Centerra Gold, the former having long insisted that the state coffers have been cheated out of potentially much greater returns over the years because alleged financial and political shenanigans. That suddenly changed following a September 11 deal between the two that will see Centerra’s annual environmental contributions increase tenfold in exchange for the government dropping a $100 million lawsuit in the local courts.