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Four non-governmental organizations based in Armenia’s southeastern Syunik province have appealed to President Serzh Sarkisian to prevent a new gold mining operation which they believe poses serious environmental risks.

A local company, Geghi Gold, recently asked the Armenian government to allow it to mine gold at the Voskedzor deposit near the regional capital Kapan. The company is reportedly controlled by Suren Khachatrian, Syunik’s controversial governor.

In an open letter to Sarkisian made public this week, the Kapan-based NGOs claimed that Geghi Gold could pollute reservoirs supplying drinking water to the town and nearby villages. They said industrial waste from Voskedzor could reach those reservoirs because the deposit lies on a higher altitude.

“That is fraught with serious risks,” Armen Parsadanian of Sustainable Development, one of the four civic groups, said on Thursday.

Geghi Gold’s chief executive, Armen Bakunts, dismissed those concerns. “I live in Kapan and drink the same water,” he said.

While denying major environmental risks, Bakunts refused to specify the type of mining operations planned by his company or give other details of the project.“It’s not that I avoid interviews,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “I just don’t know why I should tell you all this over the phone.”

The project was also defended by the mayor of Geghi, a village adjacent to the would-be mining site. Vasil Grigorian said most villagers voiced support for it at a public discussion on May 26 because Geghi Gold has promised to create 300 jobs in their community.

Syunik is home to most of Armenia’s metal mining companies that account between them for roughly one-third of Armenian exports. The biggest of them, the Zangezur Copper-Molybdenum Combine, is also located in the mountainous region rich in gold, copper and other non-ferrous metals.

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