Police in Eastern Sierra Leone have opened fire to disperse a group of demonstrators in the kimberlite mining town of Koidu, where local residents say they have not been compensated for environmental damages from the mining. As Jade Heilmann reports from our West, Central Africa bureau in Dakar, several people were injured in the incident.
Dozens of young residents of the eastern Sierra Leone town of Koidu swarmed onto the mine to protest against the mining company. Sierra Leone police had to intervene and opened fire on the protesters.
Valnora Edwin is the director of Sierra Leone non-governmental organization, Campaign for Good Governance. She says the residents of the town adjacent to the mine complain the blasting has negatively impacted their daily lives.
"They are complaining that when they are doing the blasting it is affecting their school, it's affecting everyday activities because everyone has to go indoors, there are particles flying in the air, and that is also affecting their health," she said.
The residents are also complaining that the mining, which started in 2003, damages their plantations, their water supplies, and more generally, the environment. They want the mining company to pay to relocate them.
Abu Brima, executive director of the Sierra Leone Network Movement for Justice and Development, has been an avid activist against the company's practices, which he says violate human rights. He explains the community has taken legal steps to try to change the mining company's practices.
"The community people have made a number of complains, and have written a lot of letters of complaints to the authorities, and recently they also made a memorandum of 14 points to go on strike if Koidu holdings did not meet their demands," he said.
According to Brima, because these demands were not met, the villagers resorted to protesting, expecting the support of local authorities.
"But, unfortunately they [the authorities] have used their heavy hands to clamp down on local communities on behalf of the mining company. Now there is a lot of panic and chaos and pandemonium in the whole of Koidu town," he said.
Koidu Holdings, a kimberlite mining company, has changed ownership several times. The current majority stakeholder is Geneva-based mining group BSG.
They could not be reached for comment, but a March 2004 press release says the company is adhering to the standards and regulations of the Sierra Leone Government and international best practices.
The press release also states they have adhered to compensatory and relocation plans, but that new houses are being illegally built on land leased to the mine.