RACHEL JONES

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) ¿ Venezuela refused to renew a gold concession held by U.S. miner Gold Reserve Inc. on Wednesday as President Hugo Chavez seeks to boost state control over the nation's gold deposits.

The Mining Ministry rejected the company's request to extend the contract for its Brisas del Cuyuni project, part of its larger Brisas mine in Venezuela's southern Bolivar state. The concession expired in April 2008 and has since been under review.

The decision was published in Venezuela's Official Gazette on Wednesday.

Gold Reserve claims that the rejection violates Venezuelan law, which requires the government to reply to concession requests within six months. Gold Reserve says it first sought an extension in late 2007, but received no reply until this week.

"This action is outside of the law," company president Doug Belanger said in a statement. He has previously said the company could seek international arbitration.

Gold Reserve is based in Spokane, Washington, but its mines are all in Venezuela, according to its Web site. It says it has invested more than $5 billion in the Brisas mine, which holds an estimated 10.2 million ounces of gold. It has rights to the property under several concessions, most of which are not up for renewal until 2018. It says the Brisas del Cuyuni project holds about 3 percent of those reserves.

Gold mining has become increasingly uncertain in Venezuela as Chavez has targeted the country's mineral resources amid falling oil prices, vowing to boost state control over them and build an industrial complex to reduce reliance on oil.

His government denied Toronto-based Crystallex International Corp. a final permit to start digging at the country's largest gold mine, Las Cristinas, last May.

Chavez in January announced that Venrus, a joint enterprise formed between the Russian-financed Rusoro Mining Ltd. and a Venezuelan state holding company, would develop Las Cristinas. Crystallex said it had not been informed of any changes to its deal.

Venezuela relies on oil for 93 percent of exports but has seen world crude prices tumble 57 percent since their July peak.
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