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News 30 Aug 17

Romania Wants Gold Mine Pulled From UNESCO List

Romania’s Prime Minister Mihai Tudose is under fire after announcing that the government intends to ask UNESCO to exclude the Rosia Montana mine from its World Heritage List. 

Ana Maria Touma
BIRN
Bucharest
The archaeological site at the Rosia Montanta 200-year-old gold mine. Photo: Francis Planche/Flikr

Romanian Prime Minister Mihai Tudose has angered environmental activists after announcing on Tuesday that the government will ask UNESCO to set aside a request made by the previous government in January to declare the 2,000-year-old Rosia Montana gold mine a protected area.

The Prime Minister made the statement during a talk show on Romania TV, a television station close to the ruling Social Democrat Party.

Tudose accused the former technocratic Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos and former Environment Minister Cristian Pasca Palmer of wrongly including the Rosia Montana area in the Western Carpathians on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.

The UN cultural organization accepted the request on February 5.

Tudose said there was little chance now of UNESCO accepting the government's fresh request because “it is very difficult once they accept it [a request for inclusion on the list]. Then it’s almost impossible to remove it.”

He said that because of the UN listing, Romania risked never being able to exploit significant iron and gold deposits in the area.

“We will try to send a letter and state that we do not support the same point of view anymore, which will put us in a very strange position with international institutions. If the situation is final, it’s all over. Our resources are there,” the PM said.

The statement came hours after the former environmental activist and current opposition Senator Mihai Gotiu – a member of the Save Romania Union NGO – accused the government of seeking to withdraw the Rosia Montana site from the UNESCO Heritage List.

The apparent reason would be to settle a lawsuit filed in Washington by the Canadian-based firm Gabriel Resources, which has been trying to obtain the right to exploit the gold in Rosia Montana for over 15 years.

Gabriel Resources filed a second lawsuit against Romania in June, seeking $4.4 billion in damages over its stalled Rosia Montana gold and silver project.

The lawsuit claimed Romania violated several investment contract clauses. It was filed at the World Bank's court of arbitration, the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, in Washington.

In 2014, under pressure from environmentalists, worried by the company’s plans to use poisonous cyanide in the extraction process, the Romanian government stopped the project. 

After Tudose confirmed that the cabinet will send the letter to UNESCO, activists on social media called for renewed protests.

A protest is planned for Friday in Cluj Napoca, the main city in Transylvania, where a street movement that led to the mining ban began on September 1, 2013. 

Tudose said that Romania will not lose the arbitration case with Gabriel Resources because the company never actually invested in mining and the money was spent on different development projects in the area.

Gabriel Resources is controlled by the Israeli mining tycoon Benjamin Steinmetz, who was recently detained by Israeli prosecutors for alleged money laundering.

He is wanted also in Romania in a corruption case involving Prince Paul of Romania and former senior Romanian dignitaries.

The Israeli billionaire is also the owner of ferronickel giant Cunico Resources, which operates two major production facilities in the Balkans - the FENI Industries plant in Macedonia and the NewCo Ferronikeli ferronickel mining complex in Kosovo.

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