By Matthew Mpoke Bigg
ACCRA (Reuters) – Illegal miners operating at AngloGold Ashanti’s Obuasi mine in Ghana have ignored a government deadline to leave, delaying company plans to restart production.
Up to 5,000 miners were still working at Obuasi in the Ashanti region on Friday, four days after a deadline for them to leave, said Benjamin Annan, spokesman for the Association of Small Scale Miners. He said relocation plans that would enable them to move were yet to be finalised.
“We will move immediately the Minerals Commission representative has done the demarcations,” Annan told Reuters.
AngloGold officials say previous deals to get the miners out were ignored and as a result it could not attract new investment or complete a study on how much it would cost to bring the mine back to life.
The Obuasi mine began production a century ago and is crucial to gold mining in a country that also exports cocoa and oil. Output was halted and almost all staff laid off in 2014 when falling gold prices made it uneconomic to access new and deep-lying reserves. Gold prices have since recovered somewhat.
Crime and unemployment have since soared in Obuasi town and in February men broke into the concession, digging shafts that intersected with the mine’s official tunnels and allowed them to access ore thousands of feet underground.
At least 130 illegal miners have been killed, according to AngloGold’s figures.
The illegal miners were due to move to a different part of the AngloGold concession under a deal worked out by a committee that included small scale miners set up by the government regulator, the Minerals Commission.
“We are counting on them to leave on their own, or be pushed out and also lose the ground that we have earmarked for them,” said Toni Aubynn, chief executive of the commission.
Local officials said security forces were unlikely to evict the miners ahead of a presidential election in December, given that many families rely on the miners’ income.
The apparent decision not to force the miners out is an example of what many business leaders say is a slowdown in government decision-making as the election approaches.
“All we can do is continue to monitor and hope to see results on the ground,” Eric Asubonteng, managing director of AngloGold Ashanti Ghana, told Reuters. The company is also pursuing arbitration in Washington with the government, he said.
(Editing by Edward McAllister and Mark Potter)