China tells Kyrgyzstan to punish mine attackers

Foreign mining companies have seen some pushback from Kyrgyzstan farmers (AFP Photo/VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO) (AFP)

China's embassy in Kyrgyzstan Tuesday called on the Central Asian country to punish villagers it said attacked a Chinese-owned mine, leaving more than 20 workers injured.

The rare diplomatic rebuke from Beijing followed a skirmish between mine employees and villagers living close to the Solton Sary gold deposit which is licensed to China's Zhong Ji Mining.

The embassy said it had informed Kyrgyzstan of its "serious concern" over the incident.

China "firmly asks the government... to take effective measures to protect the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies, ensure the safety of (Chinese) citizens," the statement said, noting that guilty parties should be "strictly punished."

China rarely criticises its impoverished neighbour's investment climate despite a series of conflicts between Chinese companies and local communities in recent years.

A health ministry spokeswoman said that 28 Chinese employees of the company that operates the mine in the central province of Naryn had sought treatment after the confrontation began on Monday.

Police said around 300 villagers gathered at the mine to demand that the Chinese company cease work there.

"Both sides threw stones at each other" during the clashes that followed, the ministry said in a statement.

Kyrgyzstan's national security service issued a statement warning citizens against sharing videos of the incident, citing their potential to stir inter-ethnic hatred.

Zhong Ji Mining won a license for the Solton Sary gold field in 2012, shortly after a popular uprising that saw an uptick in conflicts between mining companies and local communities in the ex-Soviet country.

Pastoral farmers regularly accuse mining companies of causing ecological damage, accusations the companies deny.

Chinese companies have been particular targets for community ire.

Last year a Chinese investor in the southwestern Jalal Abad province saw its premises stormed by protesters opposed to the construction of a new gold refining plant.

Some of the biggest clashes in recent years have occurred in the eastern Issyk Kul province where a mine owned by Toronto-listed company Centerra Gold accounted for 8.5 percent of GDP in 2018.

Kyrgyzstan, a mountainous majority-Muslim nation of six million people in Central Asia, is the second poorest of the 15 countries which achieved independence after the Soviet collapse.