MAC: Mines and Communities

Diamond mining halted at Sierra Leone's Koidu mine - but only after two protesters die

Published by MAC on 2007-12-14

Diamond mining halted at Sierra Leone's Koidu mine - but only after two protesters die

14th December 2007

After several years protesting against the impacts of diamond mining at the Koidu mine in Sierra Leone, local people last week staged a protest. Police fired on the crowd and at least two people were killed.

Says leading Sierra leone human rights activist, Abu Brima: "[T]he authorities unfortunately... used their heavy hands to clamp down on local communities on behalf of the mining company. Now there is a lot of panic and chaos and pandemonium in the whole of Koidu town."

Sierra. Leone halts mining after 2 die in diamond riots

By Katrina Manson

14th December 2007

FREETOWN (Reuters) - Sierra Leone ordered the country's biggest diamond mine to suspend operations on Friday pending an investigation into riots in which two people died and several were hospitalised in the eastern mining town of Koidu. Police used tear gas and live bullets to disperse more than 400 protesters who looted equipment and destroyed a generator at mining company Koidu Holdings' concession on Thursday.

President Ernest Bai Koroma ordered a temporary halt to Koidu's operations in an effort to calm tensions in the poor West African state, in which fighting for control of diamond mines fuelled a brutal 1991-2002 civil war.

"Two people are dead and eight injured," police Chief Superintendant Joseph Kabia in Koidu told Reuters by telephone.

Following the election of Koroma's All People's Congress (APC) government in September, some 1,000 illicit miners invaded Koidu Holdings' concession in the hope of unearthing diamonds. Police removed the miners on December 12 after Koidu agreed they could keep any diamonds from the gravel they had collected.

The latest violence erupted after demonstrators assembled at the mine's entrance when the company carried out blasting to loosen the hard diamond-rich rock. Police said they were unable to control the situation.

"The commander told us they had shotguns, so we had to use armed police," said Kadia. "They heard continuous gun shots so there was no alternative. They fired into the air."

It was unclear how the two dead were killed. A delegation of officials, including the minister of defence, flew to Koidu on Friday for discussions with police, locals and the company.

Residents are demanding more compensation for Koidu's mining activities. Aminata Kelly-Lamin, of advocacy group Network Movement for Justice and Development (NMJD), said demonstrators staged a peaceful protest and police overreacted.

NMJD says more than 5,000 people should be re-housed, but Koidu says 155 households within the 250-metre (yard)blast envelope will be resettled.

Minister of Mineral Resources Alhaji Abubakarr Jalloh, who has appealed for illicit miners to leave the area, noted the "company is relatively slow in building the resettlement".

A private company owned by Israeli diamond magnate Beny Steinmetz, Koidu Holdings mines the deepest vertical kimberlite pipe in the world. It has been in talks with locals who live near the blast site in the concession for several years.

Sierra Leone Police Open Fire on Locals Protesting Mining Practices

By Jade Heilmann, Dakar

14th December 2007


Police in Eastern Sierra Leone have opened fire to disperse a group of demonstrators in the kimberlite mining town of Koidu, where local residents say they have not been compensated for environmental damages from the mining. As Jade Heilmann reports from our West, Central Africa bureau in Dakar, several people were injured in the incident.

Dozens of young residents of the eastern Sierra Leone town of Koidu swarmed onto the mine to protest against the mining company. Sierra Leone police had to intervene and opened fire on the protesters.

Valnora Edwin is the director of Sierra Leone non-governmental organization, Campaign for Good Governance. She says the residents of the town adjacent to the mine complain the blasting has negatively impacted their daily lives.

"They are complaining that when they are doing the blasting it is affecting their school, it's affecting everyday activities because everyone has to go indoors, there are particles flying in the air, and that is also affecting their health," she said.

The residents are also complaining that the mining, which started in 2003, damages their plantations, their water supplies, and more generally, the environment. They want the mining company to pay to relocate them.

Abu Brima, executive director of the Sierra Leone Network Movement for Justice and Development, has been an avid activist against the company's practices, which he says violate human rights. He explains the community has taken legal steps to try to change the mining company's practices.

"The community people have made a number of complains, and have written a lot of letters of complaints to the authorities, and recently they also made a memorandum of 14 points to go on strike if Koidu holdings did not meet their demands," he said.

According to Brima, because these demands were not met, the villagers resorted to protesting, expecting the support of local authorities.

"But, unfortunately they [the authorities] have used their heavy hands to clamp down on local communities on behalf of the mining company. Now there is a lot of panic and chaos and pandemonium in the whole of Koidu town," he said.

Koidu Holdings, a kimberlite mining company, has changed ownership several times. The current majority stakeholder is Geneva-based mining group BSG.

They could not be reached for comment, but a March 2004 press release says the company is adhering to the standards and regulations of the Sierra Leone Government and international best practices.

The press release also states they have adhered to compensatory and relocation plans, but that new houses are being illegally built on land leased to the mine.

2 killed as Sierra Leone mine protestors fired on: police

14th December 2007

FREETOWN (AFP) — At least two people died and nine were injured when Sierra Leoneans protesting against a South African diamond firm dynamiting a zone near their homes were fired upon, police said Friday. "Live bullets were used to quell the demonstration as it was violent," said Joseph Kabia, chief of police of Koidu town in the west African country's diamond-rich northeast, without saying who did the firing.

"I can confirm two deaths but I cannot say the cause," he said, adding that 25 protestors who took part in Thursday's demonstration had been arrested.

He did not specify who exactly had fired on the angry crowd but merely said that he had not given the order to shoot.

According to locals, the protest was started by residents who refused to leave their homes to allow the Koidu Holdings Company to dynamite the hilly region.

They had earlier complained that the blasts were leading to rockfalls. Some 300 youths armed with sticks, knives, rocks and spades then set off towards the blasting zone.

Sadiq Sillah, the local representative of Koidu Holdings, told AFP by phone: "The youths stormed the mining site and set fire to nearby bushes burning electric cables."

Some locals had formed an association which launched a petition urging an end to the dynamiting, saying it was affecting their health.

"The members from our group decided they should not wait for the company or the government to react to our petition for redress of our grievances particularly against the blasting activities of the company," the association's president Musa Jamiru told AFP.


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