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04.07.2019 Congo

DR Congo soldiers, illegal miners face off after deadly collapse

By AFP
A Congolese artisanal miner climbs out, with the use of vines, of a deep gold mine in 2018.  By John WESSELS (AFP/File)
JUL 4, 2019 CONGO
A Congolese artisanal miner climbs out, with the use of vines, of a deep gold mine in 2018. By John WESSELS (AFP/File)

Soldiers were deployed Thursday to a mine in southeast DR Congo where illegal miners were protesting their expulsion a week after a shaft collapse killed dozens of their peers.

More than 40 illegal miners died last week when part of a copper mine operated by Kamoto Copper Company (KCC), a subsidiary of Swiss company Glencore, collapsed in Kolwezi.

Illegal mining is common and frequently deadly in Democratic Republic of Congo, where safety is often poor and risk-taking high.

"The army has just forced us out of KCC's Kov mine... Where are we going to work?" protester Leon Tshimanga asked in a telephone interview with AFP Thursday.

Glencore in a statement confirmed the military was deployed to deal with "a growing presence of illegal artisanal miners".

It urged "restraint" on the part of the army and respect for "international human rights standards. This includes the principles relating to the use of proportionate force and provision of medical aid."

After last week's collapse, President Felix Tshisekedi demanded an investigation, while acting Interior Minister Basile Olongo pointed the finger at "thieves".

Protester Tshimanga insisted the group wanted the right to mine for cobalt and copper to make a living.

The demand is also being pushed by a collective of human rights organisations which has asked the provincial government to set aside excavation sites for subsistence miners, to prevent them breaking the law and risk their lives digging in off-limits, privately owned mines.

In its statement, Glencore said "KCC will continue to engage with all the relevant stakeholders to collaborate on identifying and implementing a long-term, sustainable solution to illegal mining in the DRC."

Security sources told AFP protesters had been arrested after some ransacked a police office Thursday.

Confrontations between police and illegal miners are frequent in the DR Congo, a country where the mineral richness is not reflected in the poverty of its people.

Last month, the Congolese army ousted about 10,000 illegal miners from land worked by Tenke Fungurume Mining, a majority-owned Chinese company and the biggest in southeast DR Congo.

The DR Congo is the world's biggest producer of cobalt. Illegal miners extracted about 14-16 percent of the 80,800 tonnes produced in the country in 2017, according to London broker Darton Commodities.

Cobalt prices have fallen sharply however to $28,600 per ton from a peak of $95,000 in April 2018.

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