AFRICA/CENTRAL AFRICA - A missionary who denounces the environmental damage of gold mines has been stopped

Thursday, 2 May 2019 environment   justice  

Bangui (Agenzia Fides) - An Italian missionary who denounces the environmental damage caused by the gold mines in the Central African Republic was stopped by the military", says Fr. Aurelio Gazzera, a Carmelite missionary in Bozoum, in the north-west of the country. Fr. Gazzera said Chinese mining companies exploring for gold have set up around a dozen excavation sites in Bozoum and the surrounding area in recent months. "I took some photos and some videos of works that in practice have never been stopped", says the missionary. The local population has in fact asked to stop the extraction of gold that is causing important environmental damage (see Fides 10/04/2019).
However, Fr. Aurelio was blocked by the military. "The soldiers asked me why I was taking photos. I replied that it is not forbidden, especially because I was not on the mining site, but on the other side of the river Ouham", the missionary said. "The soldiers threatened me".
The military then led Fr. Aurelio to the Mining Brigade, the military department in charge of defending the mines in the area. "We had to go through the city and people quickly understood that there was a problem", says Fr. Aurelio. "Once I arrived at the command of the Mining Brigade, a crowd of young people, women and people immediately gathered, shouting for my release". After a few minutes, I was released, but I asked to have my phone and camera back".
The story of Fr. Aurelio becomes dramatic at this point: “The whole city took to the streets, happy for my release, but the people are angry with the authorities and above all with the Chinese company. I return to the mission, but in the meantime the situation in the city becomes explosive: people began erecting barricades and a vehicle of the Chinese company was set on fire. People threatened to hunt down Chinese workers. Therefore I go back to the city with the Prefect and the Public Prosecutor, and tried to calm the population. But right at that moment, a FACA vehicle (the army) arrives at full speed with a dozen men. They are armed, but the crowd (between 3-4,000 people) goes toward them and forces them to back off. The military began shooting people at close range".
After the military left, Fr. Aurelio managed to address the population by urging them to avoid other violent actions, remembering that "the problem of the wild exploitation of natural resources must be regulated by law". (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 2/5/2019)