Hundreds of illegal miners have rioted and blocked export traffic at Freeport-McMoRan’s 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.”
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.