Miners have resisted, clashing with police while intermittently blocking traffic on the Interoceanic Highway in recent weeks. One miner was killed and more than 50 people hurt by shotgun and gunfire during those confrontations.

Illegal mining accounts for about 20 percent of Peru's gold exports, and most miners are poor migrants from the Andean highlands. By cracking down the government is toying with a powder keg, some Peruvians fear.

"People are going to go hungry," said Luis Otzuka, president of Fedemin, which represents the informal miners. "This is a dictatorial, authoritarian government."

He said his group was sending a delegation to Lima, the capital, on Tuesday to appeal to officials to halt the crackdown.

"In the course of this week there will be strikes," Otzuka said. "The government is clearing out the mining corridor. The idea is to do away with mining in Madre de Dios."

Miner Joel Macedo looked on disconsolately as machinery burned in the mining camp where he worked.

"Where am I going to work now? Do they want me to become a criminal?" he said.

Urresti said the government will soon decree the investment of $35 million in public works projects in the region to offer the miners employment in agriculture, ecotourism and other areas.

"We know we're not going to do away with illegal mining unless we solve the social problem," he said.

Urresti said the government has no plans to forcibly remove miners from the shantytowns where they live.

He said the government sympathizes with the miners, and is more interested in the businesspeople behind the illegal mining. The government has vowed to identify and prosecute them.

"The people who are illegal are the 50 people who are financing all this, not the day laborers who do all the hard work under dangerous conditions and are poisoned with mercury," he said.

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