Canadian miners caught up in Mali unrest – by Jessica McDiarmid (Toronto Star – January 23, 2013)

The Toronto Star has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on federal and Ontario politics as well as shaping public opinion.

Canadian miners in Mali are grappling with security as a French-led assault pushed rebel forces further away from the capital on Tuesday.

Some companies have reduced operations, cancelled exploration or pulled out foreign workers. But mining operations are still carrying on normally in Mali’s gold-rich southwest, where most companies work hundreds of kilometres from the fighting that has gripped the vast West African nation.

Toronto-headquartered IAMGOLD evacuated about six Canadian workers from several areas in early January when rebels began advancing southward toward the capital, Bamako, as a “precautionary measure,” said Bob Tait, vice president of investor relations.

It has cut some exploration activities but its two mines continue to operate normally, he said. IAMGOLD holds equal shares in the Sadiola and Yatela gold mines with AngloGold Ashanti, which operates both mines. Mali is Africa’s third-largest gold miner after Ghana and South Africa. Production — and investment — is rising as its government looks to take advantage of high metal prices worldwide.

As of 2011, Canadian mining assets in the country were nearly $500 million, ranking it ninth in Africa. There are more than 15 Canadian mining and exploration firms working in the country, according to Natural Resources Canada.

Mali saw Canadian exports of more than $26 million in 2011, mostly equipment and machinery.

About 14 per cent of Canada’s mining assets are in Africa, a number that’s on the increase.

Exploration company Merrex Gold Inc. has halted drilling in its joint venture with IAMGOLD at Siribaya in the southwest corner of Mali, said president Gregory Isenor.

“Mali is a great jurisdiction to work in, lots of gold potential, and this unrest is not good for exploration,” said Isenor. “We still maintain the project, it’s our flagship project and I’m sure that these problems will clear up in the short term… We’ll put it on hold for the time being.”

Vancouver-headquartered Great Quest Metals Ltd. had to clear out from the Tilemsi phosphate project in northeastern Mali.

It stopped drilling in late 2011 and reduced other activities in spring of 2012 after the Islamist advance, partially due to spillover from the Libyan conflict, put the area north of Gao under rebel control.

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