Three French troops died by accident while carrying out an operation against illegal gold mining in the South American territory of French Guiana, military authorities said on Thursday.
The soldiers were laying explosive charges in a tunnel to destroy illegal underground mining installations when they were apparently overcome by toxic fumes, the French military general staff said.
Five other soldiers, who also became ill, were evacuated by helicopter to the territory’s capital, Cayenne, where one of them was in a serious condition.
The incident took place on Wednesday in the remote inland forest region of Saint-Jean d’Abounami, the military said.
The troops had been in action since last Thursday.
Illegal gold mining is common in French Guiana, with the environmental conservation group, WWF describing it as the region’s “main social, health and environmental scourge’’.
According to WWF, illegal artisan miners use an average of 1.3 kilogrammes of toxic mercury to extract each kilogramme of gold.
There is also controversy in Guiana over a major legal gold mine project, the so-called Montagne d’Or.
In May, the French Government said that the project, as it stood, was not in line with environmental requirements.
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