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Colombia's government issued a decree aimed at formalizing small-scale mining operations, part of a government drive to bring order to one of the country's most informal sectors.
The decree establishes legal, technical, labor, safety and environmental guidelines for the sector, ending the use of mercury in their operations, the energy and mines ministry (MinMinas) said.
The decree also lays the groundwork for the creation of a databank for mining concessions, according to the ministry.
"This decree is a major step towards formalizing small-scale mining, as it promotes mechanisms so traditional mining communities can carry out the activity under the protection of a mining concession," deputy mining minister Carlos Cante said in a statement.
"These mechanisms help promote the co-existence of small, medium and large-scale mining in our territory which are committed to socio-environmental responsibility."
President Juan Manuel Santos, along with the leaders of Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia, is seeking to halt money laundering, deforestation and pollution of the Amazon jungle by informal miners. The government has identified 7,000 mining operations in 16 departments, according to the ministry. Small-scale operations account for 70% of mining in the country.
Colombia, Latin America's largest coal producer, produced 789,195oz gold and 194,694oz silver through the first half, according to the national mining agency (ANM).
At the same time, Colombian army and police officers met with members of the Ecuadoran armed forces in Tumaco, Ecuador to discuss joint efforts against border zone criminal activities including illegal mining, pollution, contraband and human trafficking, Quito newspaper La Hora reported. The sessions were a follow-up to commitments agreed by a joint Colombia-Ecuador cabinet meeting held in Guayaquil in February.
Illegal mining operations have spread across Latin America over the past decade, spurred by record gold prices which jumped sevenfold to US$1,900/oz by 2011, according to the Better Gold Initiative (BGI).
In neighboring Bolivia, mining administration agency Ajam is demanding up to eight-year prison sentences for seven Chinese citizens and three Bolivians arrested in September in La Paz department on charges of illegal mining, radio station FM Bolivia reported.
In Peru, meanwhile, state agency Activos Mineros said it began work on a 151mn-sol (US$45mn) clean-up of environmental liabilities left by over half a century of zinc-lead-silver mining in Cerro de Pasco, Pasco region.
The two-year project known as Operation Excélsior will seek to clean up 79ha of land around a tailings pad, according to Activos, formerly known as Centromín.
"Without a doubt the start of this project represents the most important milestone in the 11 years of our company," Activos CEO Ramón Huapaya said in a statement. "It's the most important environmental remediation in the history of the country."