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Congo Activists Urge Government to Pass New Mining Code

FILE - Excavators and drillers at work in an open pit at Tenke Fungurume, a copper and cobalt mine 110 kilometers northwest of Lubumbashi in Congo's copper-producing south, owned by miner Freeport McMoRan, Lundin Mining and state mining company Gecamines.

Activist groups in Democratic Republic of Congo urged the government on Thursday to revive plans for a new mining code, saying the higher revenues it would generate were vital to supporting a young democracy.

The government of Africa's leading copper producer started a review of the 2002 mining code in 2012, aiming to increase state revenues and tighten environmental and social regulations.

However, an official at the prime minister's office told Reuters last month the government had decided to freeze consideration of a draft code submitted to parliament last March until metal markets had recovered from their recent weakness.

Benchmark copper prices fell 25 percent last year and several mines in Congo's copper-producing southeast have cut their workforces.

A group of 42 Congolese non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that have participated in talks with the government and mining sector over the new code said on Thursday that difficult market conditions did not justify further delays.

'Bleeding of revenues'

"Not doing it now is prolonging the bleeding of revenues in the sector which are needed to support our young democracy," they said in a statement that urged the government to clarify its position.

Congo held its first free election in 2006. It is set to hold another election in November when President Joseph Kabila is due to step down. The country has never had a peaceful transition of power.

Mining companies, which have lobbied hard against the new code, say more onerous taxes and royalties would drive away investment.

However, the NGOs called the recent decline in minerals prices "a temporary and random event" and noted the existing code was passed when the average price of copper was about $1,500 per tonne in 2002. Benchmark copper on the London Metal Exchange was trading at $4,915 a tonne at 1215 GMT.

Congo produced 995,805 tonnes of copper in 2015, down slightly from 2014. It also mines significant quantities of gold, tin and cobalt.