BOGOTA Jan 17 Colombia will allow mining
companies that already have licenses with environmental permits
to keep working inside a newly-minted wilderness park in the
country's northeast but no new projects will be allowed, the
government said on Thursday.
The large wilderness park in the province of Santander is
aimed at protecting an environmentally sensitive region that is
rich in gold and silver.
Energy Minister Federico Renjifo said that companies already
operating inside the park's boundaries will be able to continue
as long as they have the right permits but those will not be
renewed once they expire.
Exploration activity will be halted and no new licenses will
be issued, he said.
"It preserves the rights of those who are exploiting and
have an environmental license. They may finish performing the
activity until the license expires," Renjifo told Reuters by
telephone. "All those who are exploring in the park will not be
able to continue exploring."
He did not explain which companies in the area would be
affected by the decision, but said there are 25 mining titles
there, some already in operation but others in the phase of
exploration and the rest in construction.
Colombia has attracted a wave of foreign investors to
exploit its oil and mineral resources even as environmentalists
push for stricter controls. Government institutions, facing an
influx of new oil and mining companies, have struggled at times
to lay down rules and handle permits.
As in other commodity-producing countries, environmental
concerns are rising but many Colombians want the jobs and
infrastructure that new investment brings.
Canada's Eco Oro Minerals Corp, which is active in
Santander province, said on Thursday that its Angostura gold and
silver project "may be only marginally affected" by the
declaration of the wilderness park.
"The company's initial assessment indicates that the
officially declared boundaries do not impede development of the
Angostura project," Eco Oro said in a statement.
It said the Angostura deposit, its main asset, covers a
total area of 215 hectares and that about 90 percent of it lies
outside the boundaries of the park.
Eco Oro has a total of 30,132 hectares of mineral rights in
the region and said that 6,394 hectares lie inside the park
boundaries. "To the extent the company is unable to make use of
these assets, it will seek compensation," it said.