updated 6/14/2007 3:58:12 PM ET 2007-06-14T19:58:12

Suriname will let mining companies pursue excavation projects in an eastern jungle region where scientists recently discovered two dozen new species of wildlife, the environment minister said Wednesday.

Environment Minister Joyce Amarello Williams said the government will take measures to protect wildlife diversity while encouraging investment in gold and bauxite exploration and open-pit mining in the small South American nation.

"It is a matter of finding a right and responsible balance between exploiting our natural resources to our benefit and preserving our biodiversity, which is an important part of our wealth," she told The Associated Press.

Earlier this month, a group of scientists from the U.S.-based nonprofit Conservation International announced the discovery of new species — including a frog with distinctive purple markings and six types of fish — in the region's rainforests and swamps.

The group's research was financed by Suriname Aluminum Company LLC and BHP Billiton Maatschappij Suriname, two companies considering mining projects in the area.

Marielle Canter, manager for Conservation International's energy and mining program, said the remote area could be developed responsibly if strong conservation management is enforced to "protect its unique values."

Slideshow: Strange species Amarello Williams said she anticipates opposition from conservationists but said Suriname will reach its own conclusions about where to allow development.

"These are our resources and we will decide what will happen," she said.

About 80 percent of Suriname is covered with dense rainforest. Thousands of Brazilians and Surinamese are believed to work in illegal gold mining, creating mercury pollution that has threatened the health of Amerindians and Maroons in Suriname's interior.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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