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Romanian mayor  <>
prefers gold to UNESCO World Heritage
ROSIA MONTANA, Romania, Aug 26 (AFP) Aug 26, 2010
It's a rare day when a mayor balks at proposals that his town be entered on
the World Heritage List next to such illustrious sites as the Taj Mahal. 

But Mayor Eugen Furdui of Rosia Montana -- a picturesque Carpathian mountain
village with rich gold deposits and ancient galleries that tell the story of
mining back to Roman times -- is adamant. 

Mining is still his priority, but the modern sort: a Canadian open-cast gold
mine project that is backed by officials but has split this town of 3,000
and drawn criticism from environmentalists, archaeologists, historians and
some high-profile activists like British actress Vanessa Redgrave. 

"If Rosia Montana were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List, that would
automatically mean that mining cannot go through. And we want this mining
project to be carried on," Furdui told AFP. 

Ahead of a January deadline that could tip the balance, the "pros" and
"cons" have mobilized anew at headquarters long set up in the town's Old

Rosia Montana's green hills are said to hold more than 300 tonnes of gold,
one of the biggest deposits in Europe and all the more attractive now with
gold prices hovering at record highs and Romania battling a severe economic

For Mayor Furdui, the lucrative mine deal far outweighs the boost to tourism
brought by a World Heritage listing. 

In 1999, the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation (RMGC), the daughter company of
Canadian firm Gabriel Resources -- which holds 80 percent of RMGC while
state mining company Minvest Deva holds nearly 20 percent -- obtained a
concession license to exploit the local gold. 

More than a decade later, the firm has still not been granted all the
required environmental and archeological permits. 

Eager to push things along, Romania's Economy Minister Adriean Videanu said
last year he wanted the mine, which will use a cyanide-based extraction
process, to start work as soon as possible. 

But the opposition won't back down, not only locals but groups like the
World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the environmental watchdog Greenpeace,
neighbouring Hungary and even the Orthodox and the Unitarian churches. 

In 2002, archeologists and historians from around the world joined in,
saying the mine would damage one of the most extensive remaining networks of
Roman mining tunnels -- an allegation rejected by RMGC. 

"Rosia Montana concentrates an exceptional cultural heritage when we talk
about the history of mining", Virgil Apostol, architect at The National
History Museum in Bucharest, told AFP. Traces also exist of gold mining from
the medieval, Renaissance and Austro-Hungarian periods. 

And mining brought development so "many houses in the centre of the village
are listed as historical monuments in Romania because of their classical and
baroque architecture," Apostol added. 

He and the Romanian group Architecture, Restoration, Archeology, want the
Culture Ministry to include Rosia Montana on a "tentative UNESCO list", a
first step in the long process towards a World Heritage listing. 

The International Council for Monuments and Sites, one of the three formal
advisory bodies to the World Heritage Committee, supports the move but the
culture ministry has until January to decide. 

"Rosia Montana obviously is an important site for Romania," said Csilla
Hegedus, an advisor at the ministry. "Our specialists are currently
analyzing the issue." 

Irked by the manoeuvre, Furdui, a member of the ruling Liberal Democrat
Party, shot off a letter this summer saying the ministry had no right to
propose his town as a heritage site. 

A rare move, according to UNESCO, which told AFP some 90 percent of mayors
of proposed sites are keen for a heritage listing. 

Furdui maintains that his "community as a whole supports the mining project"
and does not want the UNESCO listing. 

But banners displayed in the Old Square show differently, with one saying
"We Want Mining" while another proclaims "Save Rosia Montana". 

"I am against the gold mine. It feels like we are occupied by the
Canadians", said Sorin Jurca, the owner of a grocery store on Old Square. 

He pointed to several historical houses bought by RCMG that now display
signboards with the company's logo, promising: "This house will be renovated
when the mining project starts." 

"I agree to preserve history but we cannot block such a colossal gold
reserve," said Valentin Rus, director of the state mining company. 

To woo support, RMGC has touted job creation, last year saying 1,200 people
would be employed in an initial, two-year construction phase though the
figure has now risen to 2,300. After that, 880 jobs would be created to work
the mine, set to last 16 years. 

"Everybody used to work in the mine here. We are not trained to do anything
else. We desperately need jobs," said resident Eusebiu Cosa, 37-year-old
former miner. "The Gold Corporation project is the best solution." 

Eugen David, 45, a farmer who heads of a local non-governmental organisation
opposed to the mine, however, feels the mine will cause "irreversible
environmental damage". 

"I do not believe the company will use explosives on top of four mountains
surrounding the village without causing any damage to the Roman galleries
and the historical centre," he said. 

"We could promote ecotourism and sustainable agriculture instead," he said,
accusing local authorities of "blocking any alternative to the mine" -- a
charge the mayor denies. 

Andrei Gruber, a 26-year-old miner's son, said he and his girlfriend now
make a living from a hostel they opened two years ago despite "the total
lack of cooperation from the municipality". 

"We are getting tourists from all around the world, from the US to Korea",
he said. "I think UNESCO listing would be very good to protect the Roman

Even if the mayor wins, the battle may continue. 

RMGC says that 651 households already "chose resettlement or relocation" out
of what local sources close to the project say are a total 750 to 900
households that will need to move. 

But villagers like David and Ovidiu Plic vow they'll never leave their homes
or sell their land. "Even if I am the only one, I will not sell because I
want to live here and I believe what I do is right," said David. 

C 2005  <> Agence France-Presse

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