Landslide kills 13 as diggers invade Freeport mine in Congo: governor

November 21, 2016 12:04 PM EST

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KINSHASA (Reuters) - A landslide killed at least 13 people last week in southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo after thousands of artisanal miners began invading a copper mine controlled by Freeport-McMoRan Inc, the provincial governor said on Monday.

Between 5,000 and 10,000 illegal miners have descended on the Tenke copper mine, one of the world's largest, since last week, Richard Muyej, governor of Lualaba province, told U.N.-sponsored Radio Okapi.

"The Tenke Fungurume site is overrun by clandestine miners who organize incursions into the heart of the private concession," Muyej said. "The report I received indicated that 13 bodies were taken from the site."

It was not immediately clear what accounted for the surge in artisanal miners on site. Freeport did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Freeport agreed in May to sell its 56 percent stake in Tenke to China Molybdenum and Toronto-based Lundin Mining announced last week it would sell its 24 percent stake to BHR Partners, a Chinese private equity firm.

But state miner Gecamines, which owns the remaining 20 percent, is trying to block the sales, saying they violate its right to purchase the stakes for itself.

Deadly accidents are common in Congo's mostly unregulated artisanal mining sector, where diggers use rudimentary tools, but far rarer at its large industrial mines.

Tens of thousands of people in Congo's southeast depend on small-scale mining to support their families and often operate within the perimeters of industrial mines. Congo is Africa's largest copper producer.

(Reporting by Aaron Ross; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)



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