Citizens of the southern Macedonian town of Gevgelija resoundingly voted 'no' in a referendum on whether to open two gold mines in the area.
Reservoir Minerals, a company that was purchased in 2016 by Canada-based miner Nevsun Resources, had planned to open the mines on Mount Kozuf after gold deposits were found northwest of Gevgelija.
Around 13,300 voters, or 68% of the local population, cast their votes in the referendum held on April 23, and оver 97% voted against the mine project, local media reported.
“The turnout was big enough to make the referendum valid,” news agency MIA reported, citing the head of the municipal election commission, Mitko Dojcinov.
The vote followed an aggressive campaign by local environmental groups who said the authorities should not issue a licence for opening the mines because mining would pollute the area near the Greek border. They argued that the gold ore would be extracted with explosives that would ruin the mountain, while the use of cyanide for separating the gold would have disastrous pollution effects in the area, which is mainly used for agriculture but also for tourism.
The outcome means that the Gevgelija municipality will not issue any licenses for prospective gold mining operators to open mines.
The referendum was organised by the civil organisation “Spas za nas” (Salvation for Us). The municipal authorities in Gevgelija are understood to have been against the mines, even though mayor Ivan Frangov is a member of the ruling VMRO-DPMNE, whose government issued the exploration concession.
Nevsun’s website says it has significant exploration areas licensed in Macedonia, where it has two mineral exploration concessions and two prospecting concessions, all of which are early stage exploration projects. Currently, the company’s main assets are the Bisha copper-zinc mine in Eritrea and the Timok copper-gold project in Serbia.
The company previously ran into controversy in Eritrea, where Human Rights Watch said in 2013 that it had “failed to conduct human rights due diligence activity and had only limited human rights safeguards in place”, resulting in forced labour by conscripts at Bisha. The following year, three former workers sued the company for complicity in torture, forced labour, slavery and crimes against humanity. Nevsun said in 2016 that it is confident Bisha is operated in line with international standards of governance, workplace conditions, health, safety and human rights.