Posted: ’29-JAN-07 10:00′ GMT – – Archive

Violent conflicts with illegal miners, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s volatile 2006 general elections and the murder in June last year of South African engineer Mike Baby, have been cited as the reasons behind the decline in diamond exports from the Société Minière de Bakwanga (Miba), the country’s main diamond mining company.

Despite more peaceful times, Miba recorded an export decline of 80 percent in the second half of 2006 compared to the same period in 2005. Official figures say it exported 545,000 carats of diamonds between June and December 2006, down from 2.5 million in the second half of 2005, thus making it impossible for the state-owned firm to pay 6,500 of its employees for four months.

British broadcaster BBC reports that main cause of the decline in diamond exports has been a violent conflict involving illegal miners at the state-owned firm’s largest mine in the Kasaai region that has resulted in equipment worth US$10 million not being used because of a lack of security.

Gustave Luabeya, head of Miba told the BBC last week that the overall output of his company had declined by some 50 percent.

While the DRC’s first elections in over 40 years have been hailed by the international community, Luabeya said the time was not easy for Miba because the region of Kasaai, the main operations field for the diamond company, is an opposition stronghold.

After 40 years, the Congolese conducted free elections late last year in which they elected incumbent President Joseph Kabila to power in a bitterly contested election characterised with bloody violence, as the runner-up, former Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba, described the elections as not free and fair.

Luabeya told the BBC that the murder in June of Baby, who was operating a new $10m dragline also affected production.

About 10,000 clandestine miners were reported to be entering Miba’s open mine everyday, creating more security problems and resulting in killings of the company’s staff.

Only four days ago, the BBC reports, a Miba guard was shot and wounded at night.

Many of the illegal miners were said to be viewing the purchase of the dragline as unfair competition, which would one day result in them losing control and not being tolerated by the mine any more.

Miba purchased the dragline, hoping it would double or even triple production. But the company that sold the dragline to Miba has refuses to send another expert operator/trainer following the murder of Baby until security at the mine was improved, which has effectively rendered the machine useless.

The BBC quotes human rights group Cojeski saying that the entire economy of the Kasaai capital, Mbuji Mayi, is being affected by the problems at Miba, the only large company in the city of three million people.

It says the city, said to be the world’s diamond mining capital, is also one of the world’s capitals of misery.

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