Major blow to illegal mining in Colombia’s Amazon: 59 arrested

Major blow to illegal mining in Colombia’s Amazon: 59 arrested

Colombian soldiers patrol an area controlled by the FARC. (Image from archives)

Colombia's armed forces have arrested 59 people in one of the major crackdowns on illegal mining in the country’s Amazon, where guerrilla groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and criminal gangs are active.

Over 600 Special Forces supported by aircraft and inflatable boats carried out the operation in an area covering more than 700 square kilometres (270 square miles), blowing up machinery and arresting dozens, news agency EFE reported (in Spanish).

The operation, said Defence Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón, will deprive FARC — oldest and largest group among Colombia's left-wing rebels and is one of the world's richest guerrilla armies — of about $9 million a month.

READ ALSO: How illegal mining became Latin America’s new cocaine

The operation, said the minister, covered 63 sites near the border with Brazil and Venezuela, where gold, tungsten and cobalt were being mined in Indian reservations. According to him, the sweep can be considered “the cleanest and hardest blow in more than a decade, possibly one of the biggest in history, against illegal mining."

Major blow to illegal mining in Colombia’s Amazon: 59 arrested

The operation was carried out in several regions of southern and eastern Colombia, near its borders with Brazil and Venezuela, where guerrilla groups and criminal gangs are active. (Image by Jorge Borja, via Flickr)

From the 59 arrested, at least 12 were members of the FARC guerrilla group. They will be charged with crimes including invasion of protected areas, illegally bearing firearms, aggravated damage to natural resources, and environmental contamination through the illicit exploitation of mine deposits.

Speaking to MINING.com in March, the country’s Minister of Mining and Energy, Tomás González, anticipated the government would take a “zero tolerance” stance to illegal mining, adding that a series of actions were in the works.

Despite Colombia’s relentless efforts to control illegal mining, authorities estimate that about 50% of the country’s 14,000 gold mines are illicit operations and with some 4,000 miners working for gangs and terrorist groups.

The country holds vast and, until now, untapped natural resources of coal, gold, silver and oil.