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In DR Congo, houses destroyed to make way for a gold deposit

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In Haut-Uélé province, local authorities ordered, in mid-October, the destruction of several houses installed in the mining town of Durba on a perimeter operated since 2009 by the mining company Kibali Gold Mining. But the demolition operation met with resistance from the populations. Severely repressed by the police, the demonstrations left several dead.

It is the lull in the province of Haut-Uélé, in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, after several days of protests in the territory of Watsa which peaked on Friday, October 22. That day, clashes between residents of the mining town of Durba and the security forces turned into deadly clashes, killing at least seven people including a police officer, according to local media.

People were demonstrating against a demolition operation several dwellings in the villages of Bandayi and Mégé opened by the provincial authorities on October 19. They are indeed installed on part of the mining concession of Kibali Gold Mining called “exclusion zone B”, part of the perimeter dedicated exclusively to mining activities but not yet exploited by the company.

On videos published by activists on WhatsApp and sent to the editorial staff of France 24 Observers, we see a construction machine destroying a house. Other images also show residents leaving with sheets of tin, chairs on their heads … Goods that they were able to save at the last minute before a bulldozer passed.


“The populations did not even have time to recover their property”

For Bissia Tchang, spokesperson for the League of young people united for the development of the territory of Watsa, contacted by the editorial staff of the Observers of France 24, the inhabitants were not warned.

It has been a while since the mining company Kibali Gold Mining claimed its exclusion zone B to mine for gold. On several occasions, the authorities have asserted that the village of Mégé was not affected by a relocation. These were only the inhabitants of the village of Bandayi. Which were sensitized two months in advance and they even obtained plots for their rehousing.

But to our surprise, bulldozers came on Tuesday morning [19 octobre, NDLR] in Megé and started destroying people’s homes without warning them and without sensitizing them to anything.

The populations did not even have time to recover their property. A child even died under the rubble. He was sleeping. We cannot stand it. And that’s what we demonstrated. How can the authorities do this to the populations they are supposed to protect?

Kibali Gold Mining, in which the Canadian Barrick is a 45% shareholder, has been active in the region since 2009. It owns a gold deposit with an area of ​​more than 1 800 km2. According to the British media specializing in the extractive industries Mining-Technology, it is one of the largest gold deposits in the world.

More than 1 500 households concerned

According to Financial Afrik, Kibali Gold Mining produced in the first quarter of 2021 nearly 192,000 ounces of gold. But the company, which only exploits part of its deposit, would now like to extend these activities to other portions to increase its production.

According to Héritier Mungumiyo, responsible from the local media Oriental Info, contacted by our editorial staff, more than 1,500 households would have been affected by these demolitions in the village of Bandayi and 860 houses destroyed in that of Mégé.

Bissia Tchang continues:

Thousands of people are now in the rain. They don’t know where to go. The situation is miserable. The victims are now housed in churches, others in schools. Some people have found refuge with friends or family. But others remained on the scene in front of their destroyed houses and shelter under tarpaulins. The provincial authorities say nothing. People are being treated here in an inhumane way.

“Businesses don’t respect the law because they don’t want to spend a lot of money”

Richard Ilunga, director of the human rights program of the NGO African Resources Watch (Afrewatch) is not surprised at the brutality with which the inhabitants have been relocated. According to the latter, these operations in most cases “always go very badly”.

The mining code requires that the communities be consulted in advance and agree to be relocated or compensated if the company considers that its activities could have a negative impact on the lives of the populations living around.

These consultations must already take place during the environmental impact studies, well before the company begins its activities. Communities must understand why they are going to be relocated and must give their consent. All financed by the company that wants to exploit the resources under the supervision of the State.

But in reality, companies don’t follow these procedures because they don’t want to spend a lot of money. Either the new plots granted to the populations are not really equal to the old ones, or the State has not provided space for the fields or there are no water sources in the new village. In many cases, it is state structures that have undervalued the assets of communities.

Some residents may therefore refuse compensation. The company therefore comes to dislodge them by force. Not wanting to sleep under the stars, some residents are forced to accept the small compensation offered to them.

For Barrick Gold, “the people who claim to be compensated are illegal occupiers”

Contacted by the editorial staff of France 24 Observers, Cyrille Mutombo, national director of Barrick Gold, explains that the populations of this area were well compensated and rehoused in 2013. Those whose houses are being demolished are occupants who are are illegally installed on the mining perimeter from 2015.

Kibali Exclusion Zone B was declared an exclusive zone in May 2010, and the people living there were compensated in 2013 by Kibali Gold Mining. Each was compensated according to what he had with an increase equivalent to 50% of the value of their property.

We then delimited the exclusive zone dedicated to mining activities with terminals under the supervision of state services. Unfortunately, from 2015 new people destroyed some of these terminals to settle there and build houses. These are the people who are asking for compensation. But they are illegal occupants.

In accordance with our schedule, we are to begin mining this area in 2022. The deadline for allowing communities to vacate the area has expired. It has even been extended several times. The provincial government has no choice but to demolish the houses ”.

Contacted by the editorial staff of the Observers of France 24, Ismaël Ebunzé, provincial minister of mines of Haut-Uélé, did not respond to our requests.

In a press conference held on Friday, October 22, Christophe Baseane Nangaa, the governor of the same province ordered the demolition to stop “while awaiting the establishment of responsibilities to see if those who carried out this operation went beyond their mandate.”

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