March 26, 2012 / 2:18 PM / in 8 years

Gold Fields says committed to Mali despite unrest

(For other news from Reuters Global Mining and Metals Summit, click here)

JOHANNESBURG, March 26 (Reuters) - The chief executive of Gold Fields, the world’s No. 4 gold producer, said on Monday his company wanted to continue its exploration activities in Mali, where a military coup last week prompted the miner to suspend drilling operations.

“We’ll have to see what happens. We’ve suspended our drilling activities for the moment. All of our people are safe and accounted for, so there’s no immediate issue,” Nick Holland said at the Reuters Global Mining and Metals Summit.

Last week’s coup that ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure was born out of frustration among mainly low-ranking soldiers over a lack of equipment to battle Tuareg-led rebels fighting for independence for the vast desert north.

Life in Mali’s capital slowly returned to normal on Sunday after most mutinous soldiers returned to their barracks, but rebels exploiting a military coup in the country pushed towards three northern towns.

The Gold Fields Yanfolila exploration project is in the southwest corner of the country, far from the rebels, but Holland said drilling had been suspended “out of an abundance of caution” and the company could reboot the operation in a day or two.

“It’s certainly a place where we are encouraged to continue operations ... we like the deposits that we are operating there,” Holland told the summit at Reuters’ Johannesburg office.

Mali is Africa’s third-largest gold producer. Other companies such as London-listed Randgold Resources are producing there and potentially have far more to lose.

“Coups d’etat are not part of normal operating business ... It certainly was a surprise ... in a country we always felt was stable and investor-friendly,” Holland said.

“Mali ... has been stable for a long time, gold producers have operated very profitably and without major issues, good relations with government. So all of what’s happened now is completely at odds with what we’ve seen,” he said.

“I’m hopeful we’ll have this (the coup situation) resolved soon.”

Reporting by Pascal Fletcher and Ed Stoddard, editing by Jane Baird

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