A Peru soldier burns mining equipment

Security forces in Peru have launched a dawn helicopter raid on an illegal mining operation and dynamited $500,000 worth of equipment, as part of an ongoing initiative to attack the lucrative illicit industry.

With 200 police dropping into the jungle region of San Gaban in southern Puno province on May 13, officials seized gold extraction equipment including power packs, dredges and processing machinery, reported La Republica.

The illegal miners had apparently been warned of the police raid, and fled the area before the troops touched down.

Daniel Urresti, Peru's high commissioner for Interdiction and Formalization of Mining, told press the raid marked the start of a tri-regional "major control operation" in the illegal mining heartlands of Puno, Cusco and Madre de Dios.

Earlier this month, the Peruvian Army Commander Ronald Hurtado Jimenez stated that illegal mining and drug trafficking were new priorities for the armed forces.

InSight Crime Analysis

The latest operation is one of a number of recent efforts taken against illegal mining. Last week, Peru's security forces announced they would undertake their first large-scale operation in collaboration with Colombia, shortly after passing a law that banned all illegal mining. In late April, troops destroyed $20 million of equipment in one mining town.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Mining

The $3 billion-a-year criminal industry is a breeding ground for slave-like working conditions and sex trafficking, but what is likely of greater concern to authorities is the rapidly growing amount of money laundered through the trade, as well as indications of ties to the drug trade.

Authorities face major challenges in their attempts to eradicate the industry, including its multi-faceted and geographically isolated nature.

Illegal gold can also be easily legitimized with false documents and then mixed in with legal gold after export, making it effectively impossible to trace, while many export companies are believed to be complicit in illegal activities. This likely explains officials' choice to target operations at the source.

As InSight Crime has noted, Peru could learn much from the mistakes and successes of neighboring Colombia -- which is battling an illegal mining trade controlled mainly by criminal and rebel organizations.

Investigations

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