Monday, January 08, 2007

Jamaica, Montego Bay, Cockpit country, landscape

AP -- Descendants of freed African slaves vowed Sunday to fight any plans for bauxite mining in the forested region of Jamaica where they have lived in semiautonomy for centuries.

The Accompong Maroons, descendants of slaves freed by the Spanish in the 17th century to repel invading British forces, will not allow mining companies into any part of their jungle territory, said Sydney Peddie, the group's leader.

"We will be joining forces with all the influential people to thwart this issue. It will not happen or else there will be war," Peddie told a news conference.

Last month, Jamaica's government withdrew a license for U.S.-based aluminum producer Alcoa Inc. and state-owned Clarendon Alumina Production Ltd. to begin bauxite mining in the northwestern region, known as Cockpit Country, following threats of street protests by environmental activists.

Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke said he would review scientific data presented by both sides and decide this month whether to grant the license. Jamaica is the world's fifth-largest producer of bauxite, the raw material for aluminum.

Peddie said opening up the territory to mining would breach a treaty signed between the Maroons and the British in 1739, which gave the group nearly 25,000 acres in Cockpit Country, an inhospitable terrain of rocky cliffs and limestone towers.

After getting their freedom, the first Maroons fled to Cockpit Country and repelled the British for decades before signing the peace treaty.

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