(AA) Suriname: URGENT ACTION - mining on Maroon lands

Thu, 22 Aug 1996 22:40:07 +0200

Original Sender: wrm@gn.apc.org
Mailing List: NATIVE-L

From: Forest Peoples Programme <wrm>



Urgent Action SURINAME 21 August 1996


The Saramaka Maroon community of Nieuw Koffiekamp faces forced
relocation to make way for a multinational gold mine. The mine
is being developed by Golden Star Resources of Denver, Colorado
and Cambior Inc. of Montreal. The Maroon community is disputing
the relocation and demanding that the companies negotiate with
them as the traditional owners of the land. After years of
fruitless negotiations, intimidation and violence, they are
asking for international support in their struggle with the
mining companies.


The Saramaka already know what it means to make way for large-
scale mining. In the 1960s, many of them were forced off their
original lands by a giant hydro-electric dam and reservoir,
constructed to supply power to Suralco - a wholly-owned
subsidiary of US-based ALCOA - for smelting bauxite into alumina
and aluminium. Of the several thousand moved, some 500 of them
were relocated to Nieuw Koffiekamp, the area now coveted by the
gold-mining companies.

The Maroons are the descendants of escaped African slaves, who
recreated forest-based societies in the interior of Suriname and
who fought and won their freedom from the Dutch colonial
administration in the 18th century. Treaties signed with the
Dutch guaranteed their political and territorial autonomy. Since
that time they have been living in the rainforests engaged in
traditional subsistence activities and small-scale mining. After
the country became independent, both the Maroons and country's
Amazonian Indians repeatedly demanded recognition of their land
rights in accordance with international law. These pleas have
been ignored and instead large areas of their traditional
territories have been handed over to logging and mining ventures.
The marginalisation of the forest peoples triggered a destructive
six-year civil war which was only concluded by treaty in 1992
when the government made (unkept) promises to respect the
communities' land rights.

Although Surinamese law does not expressly recognise the land
rights of Maroon and indigenous peoples, these rights are
recognised in international human rights treaties to which
Suriname is a party. However, Golden Star and Cambior refuse to
treat the community as a legitimate land-owner and assert that
the companies' rights under the 1994 Mineral Agreement with the
government override the community's claims. Although the Nieuw
Koffiekamp community lies inside the so-called Gros Rosebel
concession, about 80 kilometres south of the capital, Paramaribo,
the people were not consulted, informed or otherwise notified
about the granting of the concession.

Trouble erupted shortly after. In March 1994, an unidentified
armed force, calling itself the Surinamese Liberation Front took
26 hostages and held them at the Afobaka dam. One of their most
prominent demands was the revocation of the Gros Rosebel
concession. The mineral exploration went ahead, however, and a
heavily guarded base camp was established one kilometre from
Nieuw Koffiekamp.

At the request of Golden Star Resources, thousands of small-scale
Maroon miners were forcibly evicted from the concession area,
despite valid rights under Maroon customary law for many of them
to remain there. Suriname's Minister of Justice even threatened
to attack the Maroon miners from the 'ground and the air' if they
did not vacate the concession area.

Subsequently, security measures have intensified. Golden Star has
erected a number of gates and other devices, including a huge
earth wall, to restrict the movements of community members on
their lands, even denying them access to their agricultural
plots, hunting grounds and religious sites. Both police and
company security forces have established a presence and
collaborate closely. Indeed the head of Golden Star's security
is the commanding officer of the police detachment at Gros
Rosebel. He has armed Golden Star security personnel with police
issue weapons. A unit of the heavily-armed, elite, anti-terrorist
Police Support Group has also been stationed at the site.

The security officers have threatened, harassed and intimidated
community members. Twenty-five villagers from nearby Royal Hill,
were arrested and expelled from the concession at the end of
September 1995 and armed police then began to patrol the area.
On a number of different occasions patrols have shot live
ammunition at or over the heads of Nieuw Koffiekampers, even
those engaged in tending their agricultural plots and gathering
forest foods.

Environmental damage has already resulted from the prospecting
operations, as swathes of forest have been cut down to make way
for augur pits and sampling trenches, fouling water sources. Game
and wildlife habitat is depleted and animals driven away due to
exploration activities, making hunting and traditional
subsistence increasingly difficult.

Once feasibility studies are completed, vast open-pit mines will
be dug accompanied by large ponds to process crushed ore with
cyanide and hold tailings. Last year, Golden Star and Cambior's
similar operation at Omai in Guyana created an environmental
disaster when a tailings dam burst releasing a million cubic
metres of cyanide- and heavy metal-laced slurry into the rivers.

During 1995, the Organisation of American States was invited in
by the Suriname Government to try to broker a tri-partite
agreement between the government, the community of Nieuw
Koffiekamp and the mining companies. However, the negotiations
were inconclusive, a sticking point being the refusal by the
government and the companies to treat the Saramaka as legitimate
landowners, in line with the 1992 Peace Accord, as the OAS had

Golden Star and Cambior's activities around Nieuw Koffiekamp and
in Guyana were recently condemned for violating fundamental human
rights by the World Council of Churches' Consultation on Mining
and Indigenous Peoples held in England in May. The meeting noted
that the fact that the government of Suriname fails to recognise
the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples to own and control
their lands and territories 'is not a valid excuse for mining
companies to violate these rights'.


The people of Nieuw Koffiekamp have appealed for international
support in their struggle with Golden Star and Cambior. Please
send polite but firm faxes to the companies stating your
opposition to the forced relocation of the community and
demanding that they treat Nieuw Koffiekamp as a legitimate
landowner with corresponding rights. Stress that land is of
fundamental importance to the people's cultural and physical

David K. Fagin Louis P. Gignac
Chairman and CEO President
Golden Star Resources Cambior Inc.
One Northwest Center Montreal
1700 Lincoln Street Quebec
Denver, CO. 80203, USA Canada
Fax: + 1 303 830 9094 Fax: + 1 514 878 0635

Please send copies of your faxes to: Moiwana '86 Human Rights
Bureau (Suriname): + 597 424 011

For further information: Forest Peoples Programme, 8 Chapel Row,
Chadlington, OX7 3NA, England Tel: 01608 676 691 Fax: + 44 1608
676 743 Email: wrm@gn.apc.org