March 31, 2011 / 6:04 AM / 8 years ago

Newcrest suspends Ivory Coast gold mine over security

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Newcrest Mining has suspended operations at its Bonikro gold mine in Ivory Coast due to a “deterioration in the security situation”, amid reports rebel forces had moved within 240 km (150 miles) of the mine. Forces loyal to Alassane Ouattara have seized the capital of Ivory Coast overnight and advanced toward Abidjan and the cocoa port of San Pedro on Wednesday, in a dramatic push aimed at toppling incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo.

The mine, 10 percent-owned by the Ivory Coast government, lies in the central-southern portion of the country, north-west of Abidjan.

The head of presidential claimant Ouattara’s rival government said Gbagbo had just “hours” to leave power peacefully, after months of negotiations aimed at dislodging him in the aftermath of an election late last year failed.

Newcrest shares were down less than 0.5 percent to A$39.72 in step with a modest slip in the S&P/ASX 200 index.

Bonikro began commercial gold production in August 2008. For the first full year, production was 150,023 ounces. Subsequent average annual gold production is expected to be approximately 120,000 ounces.

The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday slapped travel bans and asset freezes on Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo and his closest associates amid efforts to force the West African nation’s incumbent leader to quit.

Mark Calderwood, managing director of Perseus Mining, said the firm’s gold exploration work in Ivory Coast was halted three months ago on prospective ground the company holds some 900 km from the capital due to unrest in the country.

Canada’s La Mancha Resources overnight said the 2011 operating performance of the firm’s Ity mine in Ivory Coast “remains vulnerable to the country’s political situation, changing security conditions around the mine and difficulties securing access to mine supplies.”

Consequently, the company issued broad 2011 production guidance for the mine of between 26,140 to 43,570 ounces, of which 12,000 to 20,000 ounces would be attributable to La Mancha.

Ivory Coast has considerable mineral potential, with significant reserves of gold, diamonds, iron, nickel, cobalt, manganese and bauxite, though much remains unexploited.

The United Nations officially banned diamond mining in Ivory Coast half a decade ago.

The ban stemmed from claims that the diamond trade was used to support the rebels allegedly responsible for a 2002 unsuccessful rebellion against Gbagbo.

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