UNESCO names Romanian ancient gold mine settlement a world heritage site

FILE PHOTO: A general view of an old quarry is seen near Rosia Montana, central Romania, March 24, 2014. REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - UNESCO added the ancient Roman gold mining area of Rosia Montana in western Romania to its list of world heritage sites on Tuesday, throwing the town a lifeline and further complicating a long-stalled mine project.

Canada's Gabriel Resources, which had planned to build Europe's largest open cast gold mine in Rosia Montana, is currently seeking $4.4 billion in damages from Romania for losses related to its stalled project at the World Bank's International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes.

The government, which has a 20% stake in the project, officially withdrew its support for the mine in 2014 after months of country-wide street protests against it. The company gained concession rights to the area in 1999.

"With joint efforts from officials and specialists Rosia Montana must become a role model of showcasing the patrimony through sustainable development," Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said on Tuesday, saluting UNESCO's decision.

The town, which has few employment options and poor infrastructure, could see an inflow of funds after UNESCO's decision, officials said.

Not everyone was pleased. Rosia Montana's mayor Eugen Furdui, a long-time supporter of the mining project, said the decision only brought additional conservation costs.

The European Union state first put the ancient Roman mine tunnels and vestiges up for inclusion on the world heritage list in 2016.

Gabriel Resources did not comment on Tuesday's decision.

Rosia Montana's remaining reserves – an estimated 314 tonnes of gold and 1,500 tonnes of silver – put it at the core of a decades-long battle between Gabriel Resources and a handful of local residents and civic and environmental groups which oppose the potential damages posed by the company's plans.

The project envisioned carving open four quarries over the mine's lifespan, which would destroy four mountain tops and wipe out three outlying villages of 16 that make up Rosia Montana municipality.

(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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