November 7, 2019 / 11:29 AM / 14 days ago

Congo disputes Canadian miner Banro's suspension of operations

* DRC govt says Banro did not follow correct procedure

* Banro requested force majeure in Sept after militia overran mine

* CEO has met with President Tshisekedi to request security

* Namoya mine has been inactive since evacuation on Sept 16

KINSHASA, Nov 7 (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo has declared “null and void” Canadian gold miner Banro Corporation’s suspension of operations at several of its sites in the central African country.

In September Banro said its Namoya mine in eastern Congo was overwhelmed by Mai Mai militiamen, forcing the miner to declare force majeure and suspend operations at its Namoya, Lugushwa, and Kamituga sites while its Twangiza site remained operational.

It was the culmination of months of attacks on the mine during which several employees were kidnapped.

In a letter to Banro management dated Nov. 4, seen by Reuters, the minister of labour and social welfare Néné Ilunga Nkulu disputed Banro’s declaration of force majeure - a legal clause that, when invoked, can free a company from meeting contractual obligations.

The minister said Banro did not go through the proper procedures in declaring force majeure.

Among other reasons for disputing force majeure she said that Namoya is still in production, and that Banro Corporation has no legal identity in DRC and therefore does not exist.

The government claims it is Banro’s subsidiaries in Congo that have legal status in the country, not the Canada-based parent.

Banro Chief Executive Officer Brett Richards told Reuters he has power of attorney to demand force majeure on behalf of Banro’s Congo subsidiary companies. Still, he said he plans to re-submit the request through the directors of the subsidiaries.

Richards also disputed the minister’s claim that Namoya is still in production, saying the mine has been inactive since he ordered evacuation of the site on Sept. 16.

It was not immediately possible to independently verify Namoya’s production status.

Auguy Musafiri, governor of Maniema province where Banro’s Namoya gold mine is located, told Reuters he is in negotiations with Banro over the suspension which would result in mine employees losing their jobs, hurting the region’s economy.

Richards said his main priority was winning government support to secure the mining sites.

“The matter before us is the security issue and that needs to be resolved before we restart the mine,” he said in a phone interview.

Richards met with President Felix Tshisekedi on Sept. 24 and subsequently spoke with several ministries to coordinate a response to the militia.

“It’s being secured by private security and by the government,” he said. (Reporting by Hereward Holland in Kinshasa and Fiston Mahamba in Goma, Writing by Helen Reid in Johannesburg, Editing by Susan Fenton)

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