Shots fired during illegal miner protest

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Congolese soldiers fired in the air as illegal miners protested outside a metallurgical plant on a copper and cobalt concession run by Glencore, a witness said.

The protest near 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 gathered to demand access to nearby Mayi ya Mbata opencast mine, owned by the state company Gecamines.

In response, seven vehicles carrying soldiers arrived and attempted to disperse the crowd, he said.

Glencore said in a statement about 80 people protested on the national road in Luilu. It said the army dispersed the crowd and  no injuries were reported.

Army and government officials did not respond to requests for comment.

The decision by government to use the army to evict miners illegally digging the KCC concession, majority-owned by a Glencore subsidiary, sparked protests outside the local governor’s office and looting of shops.

The government of Lualaba province, where KCC is located, promised to provide other concessions where evicted miners can dig, but they are sceptical these will be sufficient to absorb them all.

Small-scale mining for copper and cobalt is one of the few viable economic activities available to much of the population. Miners use rudimentary tools to burrow below ground with frequent accidents.

Activists say deployment of the army to tackle illegal artisanal mining could lead to violence and human rights abuses and urge authorities to address chronic poverty and unemployment.

Glencore said, prior to last week’s eviction, about 2,000 illegal miners were entering KCC daily. The Lualaba government estimates 170,000 informal miners operate in the province.