Row over Ro­ma­nia’s land of Drac­ula and gold spills onto new in­ter­na­tional stage Residents fear the mine would pol­lute the en­vi­ron­ment

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

ROSIA MON­TANA:

A bat­tle over plans to build a huge gold mine in Rosia Mon­tana, a Ro­ma­nian vil­lage boast­ing in­tact Ro­man min­ing shafts and 18th cen­tury houses, has moved to an in­ter­na­tional stage, spark­ing residents’ fears that the project could be res­ur­rected. Sit­ting atop one of Europe’s largest gold de­posits, Rosia Mon­tana has for 15 years been at the cen­tre of a bat­tle be­tween vil­lagers and Canada-listed min­ing com­pany Gabriel Re­sources.

Gabriel Re­sources said the $1.5 bil­lion project to build Europe’s largest gold mine would pro­vide a ma­jor boost for Ro­ma­nia’s lag­ging econ­omy and cre­ate hun­dreds of jobs for the Tran­syl­va­nia re­gion - the leg­endary home of Drac­ula. But lo­cal residents fear the mine would de­stroy his­toric Rosia Mon­tana, sur­round­ing hill­sides, and pol­lute the lo­cal en­vi­ron­ment with cyanide used in the min­ing process.

Op­po­si­tion to the mine sparked na­tion­wide protests in 2013 de­scribed as the big­gest since the early 1990s anti-com­mu­nist marches and, fac­ing pres­sure from lo­cals and in­ter­na­tional en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, the govern­ment blocked the mine. Gabriel Re­sources has now moved the fight to the World Bank’s in­ter­na­tional ar­bi­tra­tion tri­bunal to seek a re­ported $4 bil­lion in com­pen­sa­tion - about two per­cent of the Ro­ma­nian econ­omy - for the stalled project. Residents strug­gling to keep abreast of de­vel­op­ments fear Gabriel Re­sources and Ro­ma­nia’s cash­strapped govern­ment - which faces an elec­tion in De­cem­ber and has a mi­nor­ity stake in the project - are work­ing to­gether to keep lo­cals out ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Al­bur­nus Maior, the cam­paign group set up by Rosia Mon­tana vil­lagers, fears Gabriel Re­sources is us­ing a back door to try to re­vi­tal­ize the project while the govern­ment de­lays de­ci­sions that would block the mine. “In­ter­na­tional ar­bi­tra­tion breaches the right of lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties to de­cide for them­selves what kind of de­vel­op­ment they want,” said Eu­gen David, a farmer and head of Al­bur­nus Maior who counts ac­tress Vanessa Red­grave among his sup­port­ers. “It also ig­nores the rul­ings of na­tional courts, thereby cre­at­ing a par­al­lel jus­tice sys­tem that is ac­ces­si­ble only to for­eign in­vestors,” he told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion.

Bil­lion­aires and vam­pires

David said the vil­lagers had been un­able to ac­cess any doc­u­ments re­lated to the tri­bunal process, con­cerned the min­ing com­pany and govern­ment were block­ing ac­cess. But Gabriel Re­sources Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Jonathan Henry said is­sues of trans­parency and pro­duc­tion of doc­u­ments were a mat­ter for the In­ter­na­tional Cen­tre for Set­tle­ment of In­vest­ment Dis­putes (ICSID) which be­gan on Sept. 23 to hear the case. No sec­ond hear­ing is yet set.

“It is the tri­bunal that sets up the process re­gard­ing trans­parency af­ter con­sult­ing with the par­ties,” Henry told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion. This is not the first time the mas­sive gold project has hit world head­lines. The bat­tle first took an in­ter­na­tional twist about a decade ago when high­lighted by Swiss-born jour­nal­ist Stephanie Roth who moved to Ro­ma­nia to fight plans for a Drac­ula theme park. She stum­bled across Gabriel Re­sources’ plan and alerted the likes of Red­grave with ap­peals even made to Prince Charles, heir to the Bri­tish throne, who is a strong sup­porter of Tran­syl­va­nia’s nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment and her­itage.

But the new in­ter­na­tional bat­tle­field is the ICSID in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., which is em­pow­ered to set­tle in­ter­na­tional dis­putes about in­vest­ment and is un­der­pinned by a mul­ti­lat­eral treaty signed by more than 150 coun­tries. An ICSID spokesman said the first hear­ing only in­volved de­bate on “pro­vi­sional mea­sures” and le­gal process. Mar­cos Orel­lana, a lawyer from the Cen­tre for In­ter­na­tional En­vi­ron­men­tal Law who spe­cial­izes in in­ter­na­tional com­mer­cial ar­bi­tra­tion, was an ob­server at the first hear­ing and said ar­range­ments made it hard for the pub­lic to fol­low the case.

He said the hear­ing was only trans­mit­ted on closed cir­cuit TV in­side the build­ing al­though the tri­bunal can broad­cast hear­ings live on the in­ter­net - if the par­ties al­low - and Pow­erPoint pre­sen­ta­tions were not made avail­able. “It is rea­son­able to con­clude that Ro­ma­nia agreed with the com­pany that ac­cess should be re­stricted (and) that the Ro­ma­nian govern­ment did not want its cit­i­zens to have ac­cess to the hear­ing,” he said. The hear­ing comes as Ro­ma­nian cen­tral bank gover­nor Mugur Isarescu this month kept in­ter­est rates on hold, warn­ing that the 2017 bud­get plans were a risk for the eco­nomic out­look. Ear­lier this year he said he had never “in 25 years seen big­ger dan­gers to Ro­ma­nia’s eco­nomic and fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity”.

Anx­i­eties re­vived

The ICSID spokesman con­firmed to the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion that all the ar­range­ments for the hear­ing, in­clud­ing us­ing CCTV and a pro­hi­bi­tion on record­ing the hear­ing, were made “in con­sul­ta­tion with the (two) dis­put­ing par­ties”. He said so far the par­ties in­volved in the dis­pute - the min­ing com­pany and the Ro­ma­nian govern­ment - had not “au­tho­rized” pub­li­ca­tion of “any of the doc­u­ments so far sub­mit­ted to or is­sued by the tri­bunal”. Al­bur­nus Maior orig­i­nally re­quested doc­u­ments re­lat­ing to the case from the tri­bunal, stating it needed to see the pa­pers to sub­mit its ar­gu­ments.

The ICSID spokesman said the doc­u­ments would be pub­lished on its web­site once the two par­ties agreed to make them pub­lic. A spokesman for Ro­ma­nia’s Min­istry of Fi­nance told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion it was the ICSID’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to re­lease in­for­ma­tion and that it could not make a uni­lat­eral de­ci­sion to re­lease the doc­u­ments.

This was echoed by Henry from Gabriel Re­sources. Vil­lagers have taken ac­tion pre­vi­ously to ac­cess doc­u­ments re­lated to the min­ing project. Al­bur­nus Maior asked the Ro­ma­nian Min­istry of Fi­nance in 2015 to make court doc­u­ments pub­lic with the re­quest lodged in a court in Cluj-Napoca, the un­of­fi­cial cap­i­tal of Tran­syl­va­nia. The court ruled in fa­vor of the vil­lagers but the min­istry has since lodged an ap­peal and no pa­pers have been forth­com­ing. This start to the tri­bunal - and sev­eral moves by the govern­ment to drag its heels on some other key de­ci­sions - has made vil­lagers and ac­tivists fear the min­ing project could gain ground again.

David said vil­lagers’ fears were fur­ther fu­elled when Gabriel Re­sources is­sued a press re­lease dur­ing the Septem­ber tri­bunal hear­ing wel­com­ing a Ro­ma­nian de­ci­sion to with­draw a tax claim for $13 mil­lion. The Ro­ma­nian tax au­thor­ity con­firmed to the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion that it had given up its claim for the money and it would re­assess Gabriel’s tax records. “The com­pany has al­ways stated it re­mains ready to ex­plore an am­i­ca­ble res­o­lu­tion of the dis­pute that in­cludes de­vel­op­ment of the project,” Henry said in the state­ment. Residents also say they want to see progress on an of­fi­cial ap­pli­ca­tion to make Rosia Mon­tana a UNESCO World Her­itage site that would iron clad its pro­tec­tion.

The govern­ment has put the vil­lage on a ten­ta­tive list but con­firmed it has yet to com­plete the of­fi­cial ap­pli­ca­tion. Ac­tivists worry too that leg­is­la­tion to ban cyanide­based min­ing in Ro­ma­nia, sent by the par­lia­ment to the govern­ment for a le­gal opin­ion last year, has not yet re­ceived the green light. Roth, who won the Gold­man En­vi­ron­men­tal Prize for her sup­port for Al­bur­nus Maior, said she feared ar­bi­tra­tion might con­clude with a com­pro­mise that would let the mine go ahead. “As long as the govern­ment re­fuses to learn by lis­ten­ing to the tens of thou­sands of cit­i­zens who took the streets for Rosia Mon­tana dur­ing Ro­ma­nia’s au­tumn, mis­trust, in­jus­tice and in­sta­bil­ity will pre­vail,” she said.— Reuters

TAFOUGHALT: A Moroc­can farmer walks past so­lar pan­els that are con­nected to a gen­er­a­tor which feeds a pump ex­tract­ing wa­ter from un­der­ground in Tafoughalt. — AFP

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