18 October: A crowd of about 200 people on Friday attacked the local office of Z-Explorer, an Australian company developing a gold field in southern Kyrgyzstan, in what appeared to be another violent conflict over the privatisation of the country’s resources.
A subsidiary of Australian-listed Manas Resources, Z-Explorer discovered the Shambesai deposit in 2008 and in 2012 it received a licence to develop the field, which holds estimated gold reserves of 8.8 tonnes. A bulldozer on its way to the deposit on Friday was met by an angry crowd, Jyldyz Akmatova, public affairs officer for Z-Explorer, said from the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek.
The swelling crowd later moved to the company’s office in a nearby village and ransacked it, looting computers and other equipment, and burning seized documents, she said. “They said they feared that our works could damage the environment and harm water supplies and their orchards,” Akmatova said.
The local police confirmed the incident had taken place, but none of the protesters or the government could be reached for comment.
Violent riots over ownership of the country’s flagship venture – the Kumtor gold deposit in the Tien Shan mountains – flared up last week when protesters in the northern town of Karakol took the local governor hostage and threatened to burn him alive. Police were later able to free the official. Last month the government signed a memorandum of understanding with Canada’s Centerra Gold paving the way for Kyrgyzstan to swap its 32.7 percent stake in Kumtor, Centerra’s core asset, for a 50 percent interest in a joint venture that would own the mine.
The opposition demands that Kyrgyzstan’s share be boosted to at least two-thirds or Kumtor should be nationalised, or it will call for a no-confidence vote in the government.