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Zambian government may take over closed copper mines

The crushing plant at
LCM’s Baluba Mine,
where work has been
Lusaka, Zambia — MININGREVIEW.COM — 09 January 2009 – The government of Zambia is considering a request by the country’s mining unions that it take over affected copper mines that have been compelled to close down as a result of the global financial crisis.

Reporting from the Zambian capital, Reuters quoted Zambian president Rupiah Banda as making this statement. “It is one of the options we are discussing,” Banda said when asked by reporters from state media about calls for the government to take over the mines which close down.

Officials of the powerful Mine Workers Union of Zambia (MUZ) and the National Union of Mining and Allied Workers (NUMAW) have asked the government to take over the Luanshya Copper Mine (LCM), which was placed under care and maintenance in December.

The unions say they want a temporary government takeover before other investors are found.

Zambia – Africa’s largest copper producer – faces economic uncertainty in the wake of a sharp drop in copper and cobalt prices. Reuters reports that some foreign firms have closed down mining operations in the southern African country and have laid off many workers.

LCM – which operates the Baluba copper mine and Chambishi Metals plc, Zambia’s largest copper producer – halted work in November, citing operational difficulties as a result of the global economic crisis. It also suspended the US$354 million (R3.4 billion) Mulyashi copper project, which had been due to start producing 60 000 tonnes of copper per annum in 2010.

The company is a joint venture between Swiss-based International Mineral Resources and Ben Stein Group Resources of Israel.

Copper mining is Zambia’s economic lifeblood – the mines are a major employer in the country of 12 million people, and account for about 63% of the country’s export earnings.