Sierra Leone president urges end to strike at Iluka's rutile mine

FREETOWN – Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio has called for an immediate end to a strike at Iluka Resources' mining unit Sierra Rutile, which has shuttered operations since last week.

The strike is the second in the past month at Sierra Rutile, one of Sierra Leone's largest companies, following a week-long stoppage in October that led Iluka to cut its output forecast of rutile, which is used to make white pigment and titanium metal.

Iluka shares hit a near 1-1/2 year low after the initial strike was declared, though they recovered some ground after operations resumed.

Workers downed tools again last week in protest at the suspension of four union leaders over the previous strike.

Bio, his vice president and several ministers met representatives of the mine and the workers' union on Monday to try to resolve the impasse, Bio's office said in a statement distributed to journalists on Tuesday.

The statement from Bio's office said the two sides had agreed that there should be an "immediate de-escalation" and that the mine's operations should resume as soon as possible.

Sierra Rutile also agreed to reinstate the four union leaders it had suspended and to not fire or suspend 50 workers involved in the strike, the statement said.

An official from Sierra Rutile declined to comment, saying she was out of the country. Iluka has not commented on the latest strike and could not be immediately reached for comment.

A senior staff member at the mine said power at the facility was cut at the start of the strike last Thursday, and that striking workers had barricaded local roads.

The barricades have since come down, the staff member said, but mine operations have still not resumed.

Sierra Rutile, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Australia-based Iluka, produces rutile, ilmenite and zircon from one of the world's largest rutile deposits.

(By Cooper Inveen and Aaron Ross; Editing by Jan Harvey)