/ 26 July 2006

Workers shot during Zambia mine riots

Zambia’s Chinese-run Chambishi copper mine has stopped production after riots on Tuesday in which six workers were shot, police, company and union officials said on Wednesday.

It remained unclear who fired the shots amid conflicting reports from the restive copper-belt region in Zambia that has been the scene of labour violence in the past. A senior official said the mine planned to resume work on Thursday.

”We suspended production after the riots and we hope to resume tomorrow [Thursday],” Michael Hao, head of administration at the mine, told Reuters.

A union official separately said six workers had been shot and wounded, five by a Chinese manager and one by police. But Hao said only police had pulled the trigger.

”None of our managers opened fire, it’s not true that we were involved in the shooting. It is the police who shot the rioters,” he said.

Dobson Siame, the police chief for the mining town of Kitwe, 400km north of the capital Lusaka, confirmed the shootings, but declined to say who had shot the miners.

”I have submitted a report to the [police] command and they will issue a statement later,” Siame told Reuters by telephone.

Hao said the riots had been sparked by a dispute over wages.

”There are six [miners] in the Sino-Zam hospital right now. Our Chinese doctors are treating them,” Hao told Reuters.

Hao said the mining firm had started to pay new salaries to miners on Wednesday after the riots.

”We are paying them the new salaries and all workers will be paid by the end of the day,” Hao added.

National Union of Mining and Allied Workers (NUMAW) general secretary Albert Mando insisted that investigations by the union officials had shown that only one of the miners was shot by the police, the remainder by the Chinese management.

”The police shot only one miner while the rest were shot by the Chinese,” Mando said.

”This is a very unfortunate incident because management is the one that abrogated the agreement after agreeing to the [pay] terms. The six miners are in hospital right now,” Mando added.

China Nonferrous Metal Mining has mined copper from the Zambian mine since 2003. Currently, it produces 25 000 to 30 000 tons of copper in ore a year.

China Nonferrous said on Tuesday that it had started producing refined copper from the Chambishi mine and will soon start building a smelter.

China is becoming increasingly active in Africa with an eye to the commodities it needs to feed its ravenous economy. — Reuters