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Clashes Over Sand Mining Kill 2 in Gambia

FILE - A man uses a pick to break rocks and get sand in a sand mine in Haiti, March 21, 2018. Sand mining is a growing business worldwide, but it is blamed for a wide range of environmental issues. A dispute over sand mining in Gambia has left two people dead.

A long-standing dispute over sand mining spawned violent clashes Monday in Gambia, with two people killed and others — including police officers — critically injured.

The Julakay engineering and construction company is at the center of the dispute amid allegations of environmental exploitation in Faraba Banta village, about 50 kilometers from the capital, Banjul.

Villagers want the mining site relocated. In addition to the casualties, officials said vehicles at the site were vandalized, and the scene remained tense and chaotic after the clashes.

Sand mining is a growing business worldwide, filling a critical need for concrete in construction projects ranging from roads to high-rises. But it also is blamed for a wide range of environmental issues, such as coastal erosion and degradation of river systems.

Interior Minister Ebrima Mballow points out that Julakay has a government license to engage in sand mining at Faraba. He urged villagers to mount a legal challenge if there are problems.

"My message is let people not take the law into their own hands," Mballow said. "Let them have dialogue with the government. If they have grievances, there is court. There is rule of law."

The minister said he has dispatched security forces to the village to keep the peace.

Lamin Conteh, a native of Faraba who teaches accounting in the United States, told VOA that villagers are particularly concerned because mining in a neighboring village caused salt contamination in its rice fields.

"This mining, to us, is an environmental disaster," he said.