Two French soldiers shot dead by illegal gold panners in Guiana
Two French soldiers were shot dead and two gendarmes seriously wounded by illegal gold panners in the French South American territory of Guiana on Wednesday. They were taking part in operation to end to the practise, booming thanks to the rise in the price of gold, in a remote inland region.
The men were at the head of a group of over 30 soldiers and gendarmes sent to flush out a group of illegal gold washers who had previously fired on a police helicopter flying over the area.
The lives of the gendarmes, one of whom was hit in the abdomen, the other in the leg, are not in danger, officials said Thursday.
The area where the clash took place, Dorlin, is not accessible from the coastal areas of Guyana and has been a centre of illegal gold washing for the last 20 years, attracting illegal immigrants, known as “garimpeiros”, from Brazil.
The practice has become more attractive recently as the price of gold has risen, from 40 euros a gramme in 2011 to 50 euros a gramme today. The price rise has also led to a rise in muggings for gold necklaces on Paris streets.
Geologists were scheduled to go to the area on Thursday.
The operation, codenamed “Harpie”, started in 2008. In 2010 nearly 600 operations led to the arrest of 1,500 immigrants without residency papers.
In January this year clashes between two armed gangs, which took place just hours before a visit by then-president Nicolas Sarkozy, led to the death of at least five people with a sixth corpse reported to have been thrown into an illegal goldmine but never found.
Interior Minister Manuel Valls and Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian paid tribute to the murdered soldiers in a statement and Overseas Territories Minister Victorin Lurel went to Guyana Thursday to take part in a ceremony in their honour.