Cross-border drive aims to foil Bulgarian gold-mining plan

Activists in three Southeast European countries are mobilizing in an unprecedented campaign against a plan to mine for gold in the south of Bulgaria, a project they claim would be an environmental «disaster.» «It is a cooperation without precedent and very promising,» said Maria Kadoglou, who works for the Greek mineralogy observatory. «I hope the outcome will be positive since international law and conventions are on our side.» The target of campaigners from Bulgarian, Greek and Turkish citizens’ groups and local authorities is a plan by the Canadian firm Dundee Precious Metals to open a mine which is due to produce 130,000 ounces (3,700 kilograms) of gold a year near Krumvograd in the south of Bulgaria. The scheme is opposed by the local municipality, three ecologists’ non-governmental organizations (Green Balkans, Bankwatch and Bird Life), the Greek and Turkish mineralogical observatories and two Greek local authorities on the border. «At the start we had no contact with the Greek observatory, they started campaigning by themselves against this catastrophic project, which really helped us,» said Fidanka Bacheva of Bulgarian Bankwatch. The opposition is based on fears «of the risk of pollution of the River Krumovica, a tributary of the Greek River Ardas, which flows into the River Evros on the frontier between Greece and Turkey,» Kadoglou said. The Evros delta is used by many migratory birds and is also renowned for its aquatic park, «while when it floods it often threatens nearby crops,» she said. For Ustun Reinart of Turkey, a member of the committee of local ecologists’ groups «the cooperation of citizens of the three countries is something extraordinary and important because the terrible disaster caused by the mines knows no frontier.» She cited campaigns in Turkey against mines at Pergamon in the west of the country, saying that quite apart from the effects of the cyanide used to extract the metal, «the most obvious,» the mines were responsible for «a series of very complicated toxic effects which threaten the environment.» For Dundee Precious Metals, spokesman Laurence Marsland said the «environmental study submitted to the Bulgarian government, for approval by the end of the year, respects the norms and European legislation.» He said Dundee «has observed a policy of transparence» and invited all those opposed to the scheme to take part in the discussion. The NGOs say that by virtue of the 1994 Espoo (Finland) convention both the Greek and Turkish governments, as well as the Bulgarian government «have a major role» to play in the matter. The local authorities in the Greek frontier regions of Rhodope and Evros complain that although the town of Krumvograd and the prefecture of Evros voted against the scheme in August and September respectively «the Greek government has given preliminary approval» to it.