Gold output from Peru illegal miners surges after crackdown eases
By Mitra Taj
LIMA, June 23 (Reuters) - Gold output from unregulated mining in a rainforest region of Peru is rising sharply, official data shows, a trend the country's top official fighting wildcat miners said was due to a shortage of police to enforce a government-led clampdown.
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala launched the crackdown in late 2013 to tackle a decade-long boom in illegal mining that has destroyed swathes of Peru's Amazon forest and laced its rivers with mercury.
Police last year conducted more than a dozen big stings in Madre de Dios to shutdown illegal mines, blowing up machinery at makeshift riverside camps, seizing equipment and shuttering brothels. This year there have been no operations there, official figures show.
Antonio Fernandez, the new anti-illegal mining czar, said he lacked manpower because police were sent to contain protests against Southern Copper Corp's $1.4 billion Tia Maria project.
"Our priority in the second half of the year is Madre de Dios," Fernandez said.
Fernandez said he needs at least 1,000 officers to launch a sting in the Amazonian Madree de Dios region, where wildcat mines typically account for about 10 percent of Peru's total gold production.
Average monthly output in Madre de Dios between February and April was 1.1 tonnes, 30 percent higher than the monthly average during the same period in 2014, according to government estimates.
In April alone, gold production in Madre de Dios was more than double a year earlier and made up 40 percent of the rise in gold output that month. The gold production surge in April helped Peru post its best monthly economic growth rate in a year. Continuación...