Sri Lanka deploys police commandos against mineral sands robbers
ECONOMYNEXT – Police commandos have been deployed at a state-owned beach mineral sands mine in north-eastern Sri Lanka to prevent illegal mining and sale of sand for construction by people with local political support, officials said.
The sand was being taken from the site at Pulmoddai operated by Lanka Mineral Sands Ltd. (LMSL) which mines, processes and exports the heavy mineral beach sand.
Lanka Mineral Sands Ltd. has filed a case against the illegal miners, its chairperson Indika Ranathunga said.
And on the advice of Inspector General of Police, the site has been given permanent police protection, including deployment of para-military Special Task Force (STF) commandos.
“The police and the STF personnel were able to remand the occupants of a tipper (truck),” she told economynext.com
Two tipper truck loads of illegally mined sand from the site were being sold in the northern districts for constructions purposes, she said.
“Two tipper loads of sand were stolen every day and sold at a price of 45,000 rupees each.”
The sand was being stolen from a pile of refuse sand, remaining after being processed for their mineral content, which LMSL deposits on a nearby state-controlled land which has grown to around 350,000 metric tons.
The refuse sand is still rich enough that it could further be refined, officials said. The sand may still contain 20 percent of other minerals than the extracted ilmenite, rutile, and zircon along with radioactive particles such as uranium, monazite and thorium.
It was not immediately clear if the use of minerals sands for construction posed health risks.
Officials in the area said the sand robbers are backed by local politicians in the nearby north eastern town of Kuchchaveli and a group of residents.
“These sand robbers are like mafia in the area,” said an official from the area on condition of anonymity.
“They mine at night and get away by bribing the authorities in the area.”
LMSL was opposed by the politically connected residents of the area when it tried to build a fence to prevent the illegal extraction.
“This sand pile is next to a state playground which makes the robbery easier so when the corporation tried to build fence in its area, the well-connected leader brain washed the people to oppose, saying the corporation was trying to acquire and encroach on the playground,” an official familiar with the matter said.
(COLOMBO, April 01, 2019)