By Vakkas Dogantekin
ANKARA (AA) – Ecuadorian army and the police on early Tuesday cracked down on illegal miners and gangs in the north of the country who have been causing violence for months, the interior minister said.
Ecuador’s northern Andes bordering Colombia is rich in mineral deposits like copper and gold.
“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 in the aftermath of a 'state of emergency' declared by the country's President Lenin Moreno a day earlier.
“There is a serious environmental impact,” Romo said at a news conference in Ecuador's mountainous capital Quito, referring to the environmental devastation that comes with the influx of thousands of people whose only motivation is money.
The small town of Buenos Aires has a population of around 2,000 but is home to 10,000 illegal miners where gangs are increasingly involved in human trafficking, sexual exploitation, extortion, money laundering and murder over the past two years according to the minister.
Police had already arrested more than 850 people and seized 350 vehicles and 3,400 tons of material since the beginning of 2018, Romo said.
Ecuadorian government said Monday that the gang-infested region saw 27 incidents of violence in the first half of 2019, including homicides by stabbing.
The Buenos Aires area is part of a concession owned by Canada’s Hanrine. It lies just south of Cascabel, where Australia-based SolGold PLC is seeking to build a major copper, silver and gold mine, according to Mining.com.
Ecuador, an OPEC oil producer, is eager to develop a legal industrial mining industry.
President Moreno forecasts that the country’s mining-related output will grow to exceed 3% of gross domestic product by the end of his government's term in 2021.