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Guinea Strike Threatens Bauxite Exports 


While talks sputter to end Guinea's deadly two-week nationwide strike, the country's main export industry is starting to feel the effects. Guinea is the world's largest exporter of bauxite, the raw material used to make aluminum. Phuong Tran reports from VOA's West Africa bureau in Dakar on how the strike in Guinea is affecting the global aluminum market.

Before the strike started, several ore trains a day carried thousands of tons of bauxite from Compagnie des Bauxite de Guinee mines in the hills of Sangaredi to a processing plant at Kasmar. Cargo ships then took the bauxite to refining plants overseas to be turned into aluminum.

But some of the more than 2,500 workers at CBG have stopped trains carrying bauxite to the port as part of the nationwide strike.

Union leaders began the strike 15 days ago to protest what they call the erratic and corrupt rule of President Lansana Conte.

Compagnie des Bauxite de Guinee, known as CBG, is owned by the Guinean government and majority investor U.S.-based Halco Mining Incorporated. One of Halco's biggest shareholders is Alcoa World Alumina, also based in the United States.

Alcoa's director of corporate communications, Kevin Lowery, says he is monitoring the situation.

"The general strike going on has obviously touched base with operations at CBG," he said. "Workers have participated in the work stoppage. People should understand that while this is a serious situation, this is the third strike in Guinea this year."

Previous strikes though ended quickly. Lowery says the company is waiting to see if it will need to go to a back-up plan.

"We may be able to start pieces of the operation back up with skeleton staff. It is a very fluid situation. The company has many contingency plans and if we need to implement them we can," he said.

A U.S.-based aluminum analyst does not see cause for alarm, even though some London traders reported this week that prices in Europe for alumina - a component of aluminum - have increased. He says that there is plenty of bauxite in the world to make aluminum.

The analyst did not want to be identified for this report, because he said he did not want to be perceived as affecting world prices.

He says that though the quality of Guinea's bauxite is the best, the strike would only affect prices slightly because bauxite is produced in other countries. He says other countries produce lots of bauxite, but have their own refineries and export less.

CBG has exclusive rights through 2038 to bauxite reserves and resources in the northwestern part of the country.

Some union leaders have vowed to continue the near-total work stoppage until President Conte cedes power, while others have expressed a willingness to explore alternatives that will break the stalemate.

The strikes turned deadly on Monday when a security crackdown on demonstrators left about 30 people dead.