DAKAR (Reuters) – A Congolese army officer arrived in the village of Kafwaya in June and warned residents not to trespass on a major Chinese copper and cobalt mine next door. As night fell about a week later, the soldiers moved in.
“They didn’t say anything to anyone,” said Fabien Ilunga, an official in Kafwaya, which is home to thousands of miners eking out a living by illegally exploiting the nearby mineral resources. “The army started to burn down the tarpaulin houses.”
Deploying soldiers to clear tens of thousands of illegal informal miners from mining concessions is a new approach by the authorities in Democratic Republic of Congo, who have wrestled with the problem for decades.
Years of negotiations, alternative employment programs and sporadic interventions by the police have all failed to resolve the issue, which has long been a concern for mining companies sitting on some of the world’s richest mineral deposits.
But using soldiers to keep illegal miners out of vast concessions is likely to be a protracted and potentially violent battle, analysts say. The United Nations has often accused the Congolese army of human rights abuses.