February 20, 2020 / 12:33 PM / 3 months ago

Lydian International calls on Armenia to help end gold mine blockade

YEREVAN, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Anglo-American mining firm Lydian International called on the Armenian government on Thursday to help in solving a dispute with environmental protesters and to end their blockade of a gold mine.

The Amulsar gold mine, located in a remote mountainous region, has been in development by Lydian International since 2016, with an investment of nearly $500 million so far.

The company says the project meets all the legal and environmental requirements, and would generate hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenues.

But a group of local residents and environmental activists have prevented access to the mine by blocking a road to the site since June 2018, putting pressure on the government to act in order to safeguard a major foreign investment.

“We call on the government of Armenia to take immediate action to address the continuing illegality around the Amulsar project,” Edward Sellers, the company’s interim president and CEO, said in a statement.

“The restoration of the rule of law will serve the interests of thousands of Armenian citizens, including community members, employees, contractors and suppliers, as well as thousands of investors who invested in Armenia in good faith and with the hope that their legal rights would be protected.”

The company said the Environment Ministry had granted Lydian Armenia, its operating subsidiary in the ex-Soviet country, a permit to draw water from the Arpa river.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan called on protesters last month to end their 20-month blockade of the gold mine, saying the protest was not in the national interest.

Lydian said last year the blockade had forced it to cut more than 1,000 jobs and caused losses of more than $60 million.

Toronto Stock Exchange delisted Lydian this month because the company did not meet the necessary requirements.

The protest has divided locals. Some say the mine will provide much-needed employment in Jermuk, a town of about 3,000 people, and to rural communities in the area about 170 km (105 miles) southeast of the capital, Yerevan.

Minerals and metals make up about half of Armenia’s exports. (Reporting by Nvard Hovhannisyan; Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Edmund Blair)

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