December 19, 2012
By: Kemo Cham in Freetown
Reports from Sierra Leone’s eastern diamond-rich district of Kono say at least two people have died after a miners’ strike escalated into violence.
Junior workers working with the Octea Diamond Mining Group are on an indefinite sit-down strike demanding better working conditions.
The disturbances started Saturday, and the strikers have since issued a 15-point demand, which includes a three-month bonus allegedly promised by the company.
A leader of the striking workers was cited claiming that in March the senior management promised that if they were able to produce 35,000 carats of diamond within three months (April to June) they would get the three-month bonus.
[notification type=”info”] Octea is Israeli-owned, but the senior staff of the company in the West African country comprises mainly of white South Africans, whom the striking miners are alleging subject them to racist treatment. [/notification]
Other demands by the miners include risk allowance, social security benefits, as well as transportation for local staff.
Some reports say the protesters burned tyres near the offices of the company.
The skirmishes escalated when the strikers reportedly stoned a motorcade carrying the current Mines minister, prompting police to respond with live rounds.
This led to the imposition of a curfew in parts of the diamond-rich eastern district headquarters town of Koidu.
Police spokesman Ibrahim Samura was in a meeting Tuesday afternoon and declined to comment on the development.
Octea Diamond Mining Group has so far invested $300 million in the country.
Recently it re-launched its corporate brand after a transition from the former Koidu Holdings Limited, under which it had been operating from its flagship Koidu Diamond Mines in the Kono District.
That occasion saw the unveiling of a new 180-tonne per hour diamond processing plant which was aimed at boosting the company’s diamond output from 10,000 to 45,000 carats per month.
That was expected to more than double the country`s annual production of the precious stone from 450,000 carats to about a million carats.