Congo PM to mediate dispute over Tenke copper and cobalt mine

Tenke Fungurume (Image courtesy of Freeport-McMoRan.)

Democratic Republic of Congo’s prime minister expects to host talks between China’s CMOC and state miner Gecamines in the coming days over a dispute at their Tenke Fungurume copper and cobalt project, his office said on Wednesday.

Exports from the mine, which accounted for more than 10% of global cobalt output in 2021, were suspended a month ago after a court-appointed temporary administrator demanded CMOC halt exports, industry sources told Reuters.

The administrator, Sage Ngoie Mbayo, was appointed to run Tenke Fungurume in response to a complaint by minority-owner Gecamines, which has accused CMOC of understating the mine’s reserves to reduce royalties it pays to Gecamines.

CMOC, which owns an 80% stake in the mine, denies this.

In comments to Reuters on Wednesday, CMOC spokesperson Vincent Zhou acknowledged for the first time that the company was having problems exporting its minerals.

“Some people are trying to gain themselves negotiation power by blocking the customs clearance channels through illegal means,” he said in an emailed statement.

The company has never received an official document from customs banning exports and is going through grievance procedures to resolve the issue, he said.

Isaac Bakajika, an aide to Prime Minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde, said Lukonde was working to resolve the impasse.

“The prime minister is trying to put everyone around a table,” he told Reuters. “There is a meeting that will happen in a few days.”

Zhou did not comment on any specific meetings but said the prime minister’s involvement “shows how much importance the DRC government attaches to this issue, so we believe laws will settle it”.

Gecamines’ secretary-general did not immediately respond to a request for comment. An aide to the administrator Ngoie declined to comment.

Congo is the world’s top producer of cobalt, which is used in electric batteries, and Africa’s leading copper miner.

(By Aaron Ross; Editing by Jason Neely)

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