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The price rises have led to an increase in wildcat mining operations in the country’s vast rainforest hinterland.
Such small-scale operations produced a record of nearly 16.5 tonnes of gold in 2009, according to the government.
Seven men were killed and two others were seriously injured when the sand walls of a gold mine collapsed late on Saturday.
Police inspector Bertrand Riedewald said the accident occurred when a mudslide eroded the open pit’s 20-metre (65-foot) walls and buried the miners, who were mainly from the country’s Maroon indigenous community.
A spokesman for mining company Surgold, Esteban Crespo, said the men had illegally occupied the area since late last year.
|The bodies of miners killed after the mine collapse|
He said that during the last few months “activities had escalated to the current state in which there are more that 800 people in the area utilizing dozens of excavators.”
Earlier this year, authorities said the activities were damaging the environment.
They said miners were uprooting trees, poisoning creeks with mercury and, in some places, erecting makeshift jungle towns.
“All the top soil has been removed, it’s finished,” Dominiek Plouvier, regional representative of the World Wildlife Fund, told the Associated Press in August.
“This ecosystem is very fragile. It is very difficult to get it back in these areas.”
Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Slijngaard, head of the National Coordinating Centre for Disaster Management, told reporters that the miners were likely using a water hose to blast away soil when the collapse began.
Mining consultant Chris Healy told AP that Suriname should set aside areas for small-scale miners and regulate their activities, providing training and assistance to acquire less-polluting technology.
“You can make all kinds of laws and enforcement,” he said. “But there is nobody there to enforce it.”
The economy of Suriname is based mainly on mining, which provides an important source of income, particularly for Maroons – the descendants of runaway slaves – and Amerindians in the interior.
President Desi Bouterse announced three days of national mourning after the accident.