Armenian Court Refuses To Block Mining Project

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–An Armenian court on Wednesday rejected a lawsuit against a controversial mining project which ecologists say would wreak further havoc on Armenia’s shrinking green areas.

The environment protection group Ekodar asked the Administrative Court earlier this year to annul recent years’ government decisions allowing a private mining company to develop a massive copper and molybdenum deposit in the northern Lori region.

The Teghut deposit is estimated to contain 1.6 million tons of copper and about 100,000 tons of molybdenum. Its commercial exploitation would result in the destruction of 357 hectares of rich forest, including 128,000 trees.

In their 66-page lawsuit, Ekodar lawyers said the Lichtenstein-registered company Armenian Copper Program (ACP) received an official authorization to press ahead with the project in violation of laws and government regulations relating to environment protection. The Ministry of Environment and other government agencies sued by the non-governmental organization deny this.

The court took the government’s side in the dispute, ruling that Ekodar is not even entitled to taking legal action against the Teghut-related decisions. The verdict came just one day after it opened public hearings on the case. The presiding judge, Artsrun Mirzoyan, controversially decided on Tuesday to adjudicate the dispute under an “accelerated procedure” that bars litigants from making oral presentations of their cases and asking each other questions in court.

Hayk Alumian, an Ekodar lawyer, said this was done to minimize public resonance caused by the suit. “I knew that there is pressure on the court and that the court will not agree to rule in our favor,” he told RFE/RL. “But at least I expected a public trial during which we would present our arguments and hear the arguments of the opposite side.”

Hrayr Savzian, the Ekodar chairman, expressed hope that the brief court battle will nonetheless put the Teghut controversy under greater international spotlight. He said the European Court of Human Rights is already looking into a lawsuit filed by his organization.

The global economic crisis appears to have put the Teghut project on hold. ACP has yet to attract an estimated $260 million in investments needed for its implementation. A top ACP executive said last year that the company has delayed the launch of large-scale open-pit operations at Teghut until 2011.

ACP, which operates copper mines and a smelter elsewhere in Lori, admits the heavy environmental cost of its plans but says that will be more than offset by 1,400 new jobs which it has pledged to create in the economically depressed area. It has also pledged to build new schools and make other investments in the local infrastructure.


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