Violence and the threat of worse violence has idled a major gold exploration project in a highly prospective area of the central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan.

Last Friday around midnight 10 horsemen galloped into a gold exploration camp run by units of South Africa's Gold Fields Ltd., which owns 60 percent of the project, and Britain's Orsu Metals Corp., which owns 40 percent of the project.

The joint venture, known as Talas Copper Gold, was attacked around midnight Friday by 10 horsemen who burned several buildings and beat the camp's security manager as he ran from one of the burning buildings.

This week an unidentified party threatened to kill officials in the nearby town of Aral for cooperating with the mining project. That prompted the officials to ask that operations be suspended, a request Talas Copper Gold promptly acceded to.

Drilling is suspended until the authorities are able to bring those organizing the conflict to justice, We're not prepared to put people's lives at risk in Aral in order to drill, David Grant, head of operations at Talas Copper Gold, told Bloomberg.

The majority of the local population are supportive of Talas Copper Gold activity, Grant said. The opposition is organized by a very small group who appear to have outside support and are prepared to use any means to achieve their objectives.

The disruptions come less than three weeks ahead of a volatile presidential election in which Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev, who is seen as pro-business, is a candidate.

Talas Copper Gold has four exploration licences in Talas province in northwestern Kyrgyzstan, prospective in copper, gold and molybdenum. It has invested $15 million between 2005 and 2010, and planned a further $2.5 million spend this year, said Reuters.