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Congo Mine Violence Forces Shut-Down by Australian Company

An Australian mining company has been forced to shut down a copper mining operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo due to violence. Local officials say the death of a miner in Katanga sparked protests that turned violent, during which several mining employees were killed and protesters were shot by police.

It started as an operation to clear illegal miners from a copper concession run by the Australian firm, Anvil Mining, in Congo's Katanga Province.

But local officials say the death of one of the miners, who fell into a pit and drowned Monday, sparked protests that turned violent.

When they were refused entry to the mayor's office, angry miners turned on Anvil Mining's property in Kolwezi, 250 kilometers west of the provincial capital, Lubumbashi, torching a house. An Anvil employee and a security contractor were in the house and burned alive. Police in the remote Congolese mining town then opened fire with live bullets to disperse the crowd.

Katanga's vice governor, who is visiting Kolwezi to defuse the situation, confirmed that one person had been killed by the police. Local rights activists said two had died when the police opened fire.

In a statement issued late Tuesday, Anvil Mining said it had temporarily shut down its operation near Kolwezi and was moving some non-essential staff to Lubumbashi.

The violence highlights the challenges facing the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is emerging from a decade of chaos and is due to hold elections later this year to draw a line under the last war, which killed four million people.

Rather than helping develop the vast African nation, Congo's resources have been at the heart of conflict, leading to plundering that has enriched the political and military elite.

As foreign mining companies come to Congo to try to take advantage of the relative peace, they will increasingly have to manage the expectations of the hundreds of thousands who scrape together a living alongside them.