Kyrgyzstan threatens to nationalise Kumtor

>>Lawmakers give Centerra Gold until mid-March to negotiate

FEB. 27 (The Conway Bulletin) — Kyrgyz parliamentarians threatened to nationalise the Kumtor gold mine by the end of March unless its Toronto-listed owner, Centerra Gold, agreed to a new joint-venture to run it.

The ultimatum increases the stakes in the long-running battle for control of the gold mine — Kyrgyzstan’s single biggest economic asset.

“We should finally end this epic,” Reuters quoted parliamentary speaker Asilbek Zheenbekov as saying after the parliamentary vote. “Today we adopted a tough resolution.”

The row over Kumtor has dented both productivity at the gold mine based in the eastern mountains of Kyrgyzstan and the country’s GDP as well as its image as a place for foreign investors to set up businesses.

Centerra Gold has accused Kyrgyz nationalists of wiping up public anger against Kumtor through bogus environmental infringements. Kyrgyzstan has said Centerra Gold needs to run and manage Kumtor more effectively.

The Kyrgyz government wants to swap its 32.7% stake in Centerra Gold for a 50:50 joint venture with the company directly in Kumtor. Commenting on Centerra Gold’s full year results last month, its CEO, Ian Atkinson, said he was studying the proposal. This non-commitment may be the source of the frustration felt by Kyrgyz lawmakers.

Now, the issue of Kumtor’s ownership will once again move to the foreground, potentially destabilising the country and damaging for its reputation further.

>>This story was first published in issue 221 of The Conway Bulletin, a weekly independent newspaper focused on Central Asia and the South Caucasus

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