The road from Eritrea’s mountain capital to the Red Sea is narrow and dangerous. It descends steeply in switchbacks and hairpin turns, dotted with stone crosses that mark the deaths of drivers who failed to navigate the hazards: rock falls, steep cliffs, wandering goats, herds of camels, troops of baboons.
Now, the mountain road has a new menace: Hundreds of massive, Chinese-made trucks are thundering in a steady procession to the sea, carrying thousands of tonnes of zinc and copper concentrate from a Canadian-owned mine and roaring perilously close to shepherds and village children along the route.
The mine’s majority owner, Vancouver-based Nevsun Resources Ltd., has been warned by its own human-rights auditor – and by the United Nations children’s agency – about the potentially lethal risks of the truck traffic on the mountain road, especially to local children.
Four people have been killed and almost a dozen injured in at least 19 accidents involving the mining trucks in the past five years, according to the auditor. But the trucks are not accountable to Nevsun – they are operated by state-owned Transhorn Trucking, a branch of an authoritarian government with one of the world’s worst human-rights records.
It’s an example of the state partnerships Nevsun has been obliged to accept in Eritrea as part of its profitable mining operation. Those partnerships – especially one with a state-owned construction company that often uses conscript labour – are now coming under increasing scrutiny in Canadian courts.
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