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Last updated: 08 January, 2007 - Published 19:43 GMT
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Maroons vow to protect lands
Aluminium made from bauxite
Jamaica's maroon community's not buying the argument that they would benefit significantly from bauxite mining in their jungle territory.

The maroons say they'll fight any plans for bauxite mining in the rugged region where they live.

The descendants of African slaves freed by the Spanish when they were ousted by the British in the 17th century, the maroons have vowed to preserve their Cockpit country area in the face of moves to prospect for bauxite there.

Peddie's stand

Maroon leader Sydney Peddie told BBC Caribbean they refuse to be sold on the argument that mining there will benefit them and the country.

"That is a widely held view that we would be benefiting, but we regard the Cockpit country as our home and that's where we live at the moment so we are not interested in getting development from that source".

Keeping the maroon tradition alive

Sydney Peddie points to other parts of Jamaica he says were destroyed by bauxite exploration, and argues that the rugged and mountainous part of north western Jamaica where the maroons have lived for centuries have historical, cultural and environmental significance that can't be ignored.

"We will be joining forces with all the influential people to thwart this issue. It will not happen or else there will be war", he said, sending what he considered a clear message to the authorities.

War talk

Mr Preddie said opening up the territory to mining interests would breach a 1739 treaty that the maroons signed with the British, under which the freed slaves got about 10,000 hectares.

But he admitted that his talk of war was more figurative than literal.

"It may not lead to guns, but still we have to call it a war. We intend to fight that issue right until the government in Jamaica leave off that issue because we won't be joining up with them or discussing with them the issue of this mining", the maroon leader said.

He did not rule out taking the matter to court, and said the maroons were prepared to go as far as the United Nations to make their case, "because we cannot afford to let them destroy us like that".

A maroon's haven

Cockpit Country is a special place for Maroons, and they regard it almost as sovereign territory.

It's where the first freed slaves made their home, and they successfully fought off invasions by British forces before making peace with them.

The Jamaica government has already backed away from offering licenses for bauxite mining in the area after protests from environmentalists.

Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke said the government would review scientific data presented by both sides and decide this month whether to grant a mining license.

Jamaica is the world's fifth largest producer of bauxite, the raw material for aluminium.

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