MAC: Mines and Communities

Freeport's Tenke Fungurume mine hit by illegal miner riot

Published by MAC on 2010-08-22
Source: Reuters

Katrina Manson


11 August 2010

KINSHASA - Illegal miners in Democratic Republic of Congo burned trucks and stole copper from the $2 billion Tenke Fungurume (TFM) mine in a dispute with U.S.-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc, a provincial minister said.

A company spokesman in New Orleans confirmed the incident occurred on Monday but said it had no impact on operations at the mine, which produces copper and cobalt.

"Yesterday, a group of illegal miners committed acts of aggression against the TFM/Fungurume community," the spokesman told Reuters in New York. "No TFM employees were hurt, but several policemen received minor injuries."

Operations were not affected by the action and there were no more incidents on Tuesday, the spokesman said.

Illegal mining is widespread throughout the mineral-rich country as close to 1 million individuals working on their own dig land that is in many cases privately owned, pitting them against foreign-owned companies and adding to investor woes in Congo's difficult business climate.

"On Monday illegal miners squatting on Tenke Fungurume blocked the route, vandalized their offices, stole their computers and burned three trucks, looting the copper cathodes in one of them," provincial Interior Minister Jean-Marie Dikanga told Reuters on Tuesday.

Dikanga said the trouble started after police stopped two trucks filled with material mined by illegal diggers that were leaving the site of the Tenke Fungurume copper and cobalt mine in the southern Katanga province.

"They were expecting jobs, but they didn't get them, so now they have decided to go to war against the company," Georges Bukundu, head of the local branch of NGO Southern African Resource Watch, told Reuters.

"It was a massive riot, and there is now a big backlog of trucks carrying minerals from all the mines nearby since that road is the artery for all of them on the route out (to Zambia)," said a security analyst who did not want to be named.

More than 120 police were sent to calm the mob of about 2,000 protesting miners, of whom 32 have been arrested, said Dikanga. He said the main road had reopened.

"We want to give a strong signal to business that we are backing them," added Dikanga.

Congo is rated 182 out of 183 countries for doing business by the World Bank.

Phoenix, Arizona-based Freeport is in discussions over details of its contract with the Kinshasa government, which is in the process of reviewing all mining contracts in the central African nation.

Gold companies including Banro, AngloGold Ashanti and Randgold Resources, all of which have industrial mines under development in the east of the country, also face regular incursions from illegal miners. (Additional reporting by Steve James in New York; Editing by Richard Valdmanis, Jane Baird and Steve Orlofsky)

Illegal diggers block exports at Freeport Congo mine

Katrina Manson


18 August 2010

KINSHASA - Hundreds of illegal miners have rioted and blocked export traffic at Freeport-McMoRan's (FCX.N) Tenke Fungurume copper and cobalt mine in southern Democratic Republic of Congo, halting hundreds of trucks from mines further north, the company and local sources said on Wednesday.

This is the second time this month that miners have staged such protests at the country's $2 billion mine site, where Tenke has failed to resolve a dispute with illegal miners who continue to dig the copper-rich soil within its vast concession.

Wednesday's protest escalated after security guards tried to move local miners off the land.

"Two Territorial Police have received minor injuries and a police firearm was reported taken," Tenke Fungurume Mining said in a statement.

An estimated 500 local diggers set a vehicle on fire in the protest, ransacked a worker's home and police fired shots into the air, according to local and company reports.

"It seems to be escalating," said a security analyst in the region who did not want to be named. "The mine workers are stopping all traffic at Tenke...tyres (are) being burnt outside the Tenke barrier and fighting has broken out."

Export Backlog

North of the Kolwezi mining town, at least a hundred trucks filled with minerals from other copper mines have been blocked, said one transporter who did not want to be named.

"My trucks can't move, this has happened twice now and I'm losing here. Tenke is costing everyone else money," he said.

Earlier this month, a provincial minister said 2,000 illegal diggers overran the company's site, looted its offices, set fire to trucks and stole copper cathodes waiting for export, in anger at being forced to abandon their livelihoods without being offered jobs.

Tenke said it is "seeking opportunities to defuse tension" in cooperation with local authorities.

Jean-Pierre Muteba, head of a local mining trade union, told Reuters by telephone: "Tenke has rights but the problem is they are not engaging with the people and there are no jobs -- the miners just want to be able to work."

Freeport-McMoRan, which has a 57.75 percent share in the project, is hoping to resolve a protracted dispute with government about its contract following a prolonged mining review that threatened its expansion plans.

The site is set to produce 115,000 tonnes of copper and 8,000 tonnes of cobalt this year, up from 70,000 tonnes of copper and 2,600 tonnes of cobalt last year. (Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Anthony Barker)

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