An article on miningaustrlia.com over the weekend brought us the story of how a group of Kyrgyzstan nationalists attacked the local office of z-Explorer, a subsidiary of Australian mining company Manas Resources.
Z-Explorer are developing the Shambesai goldfield in southern Kyrgyzstan, but local concern over environmental damage and threats to water supllies and farmers' orchards have led to friction. Protesters apparently "took all the papers and documents and burnt them, and beat the bulldozer operator although police managed to save him from the crowds,"according to local spokesperson Jyldyz Akmatova.
Ms Akmatova's most worrying belief, however, was that the violence was fundamentally political in nature. Her official public response expressed particular concern at "the participation of some deputies of the local council in these unlawful actions, which undermine trust in state power and have a negative impact on attracting investment."
Manas' website contains an overview account of their community engagement activities, including a downloadable copy of their community engagement policy (one page) in English or Krygyz. However it's light on detail and there is no quantitative or qualitative attempt to assess achievements on this front. For example:
"Whilst in exploration, Manas Resources has provided social contributions to date on various projects, including maintenance of village roads, irrigation channels, schools and cultural activities in Kadamjai Region, Kyrgyz Republic... Manas Resources is committed to assisting communities to develop sustainable long-term alternative economic and capacity building projects. Manas Resources upholds a participatory approach to community development programs, and designs and implements programs in partnership between the local authority, the community members, local NGOs and the company."
There is also an account of how the Shambesai project was discussed with local stakeholders in June to address "the local community's key concerns," during which the company's approach to allaying these concerns seems to have been to argue that "radiation level in the Shambesai Valley and quality of the water in Isfairam River meet the standards established by the Kyrgyz law" and "according to preliminary estimates, the Shambesai Project’s contribution will bring three-fold increase of the current annual budget of the Maidan Rural District."
This discussion doesn't seem to have achieved what it needed to. While the motivation for the violence remains murky, there is the usual important point to be made here about the value of engaging directly with the local population and ensuring that engagement is not only done to everybody's mutual benefit, but also that it is properly and widely publicised.