Armed forces called to defend Glencore mine in Congo

Kamoto Underground Copper Mine, Kolwezi, Congo. Image by Dave Dyet via Flickr.

Glencore Plc said armed forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo are in the area around the operations of its Kamoto Copper Co., after dozens of illegal miners were killed in a landslide last week.

“We prioritize the safety and security of our workforce and host communities,” Glencore said in a statement on Thursday. “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.”

Glencore estimates that 2,000 unauthorized people enter its open-pit mine on average every day

Illegal miners will be removed from the site of the Glencore project where at least 43 died last week, Interior Minister Basile Olongo said on Saturday. Glencore estimates that 2,000 unauthorized people enter its open-pit mine on average every day.

Illegal mining is the result of a harsh economic divide across Africa, home to some of the world’s richest reserves of metals and minerals and some of the poorest people, who are willing to risk their lives in dangerous conditions to eke out a living. Some mining concessions in Congo are vast with perimeters stretching for miles, making them difficult to police.

The workers entered the KCC operation without permission and put their own lives at risk by digging at the site, one of the world’s biggest cobalt mines, Glencore said last week.

It’s a problem that’s affected several companies in the industry. Congo has also deployed troops to protect China Molybdenum Co.’s Tenke Fungurume mine from illegal miners.

Human rights

While General John Numbi, the inspector general of the armed forces, said diggers at TFM were cleared without a shot being fired, Amnesty International has said the presence of troops near the mines risks human rights abuses.

The soldiers chased diggers away from the Glencore site today, said Emmanuel Umpula, director of Afrewatch, a Kolwezi-based human rights group. Police then used teargas to stop diggers from trying to protest outside the local governor’s office, and while there was no sign of bullets being used, they were moved in a “violent manner,” he said.

“The diggers are asking for the creation of special artisanal mining zones as the governor has promised,” Umpula said. “They are also demanding that the provincial mining minister resign. They say the minister has never defended the diggers.”

Glencore said KCC has asked the Congolese armed forces to “exercise restraint and operate in accordance with voluntary principles on security and human rights.”

(By William Clowes and Tiago Ramos Alfaro)

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