DAKAR (Reuters) – Congolese soldiers fired in the air on Monday as illegal miners protested outside a metallurgical plant on a copper and cobalt concession run by Glencore, a witness told Reuters.
The protest at the Luilu plant follows the eviction last week of thousands of illegal miners from Glencore’s Kamoto Copper Company (KCC) concession in southern Democratic Republic of Congo after 43 people died in a landslide.
The witness, a member of a local civil society organisation, said at least 50 protesters had gathered at the plant to demand access to a nearby mine owned by state company Gecamines.
In response, seven vehicles carrying soldiers arrived on the scene and attempted to disperse the crowd, he said.
A Glencore spokesperson declined immediate comment. Army and government officials did not respond to requests for comment.
The decision by the government to use the army to evict miners illegally digging on the KCC concession, which is majority-owned by a Glencore subsidiary, sparked angry protests outside the local governor’s office and looting of shops last Thursday.
The government of Lualaba province, where KCC is located, has promised to provide other concessions where the evicted miners can dig, but they are sceptical that these will be sufficient to absorb them all.
Activists say they fear the deployment of the army to tackle the issue of illegal artisanal mining could lead to violent clashes and human rights abuses.
(Reporting by Aaron Ross; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Catherine Evans and Kevin Liffey)