DR Congo

DRC: Mbuji-Mayi mining disaster inquiry reports nine deaths

News and Press Release
Originally published
KINSHASA, 6 March (IRIN) - A commission of inquiry comprising members of human rights NGOs and the Human Rights Ministry of the Democratic Republic of the Congo reported on Wednesday that nine illegal miners - not 25, as had been claimed by mining colleagues and human rights activists - died on 21 February in mines managed by the Miniere de Bakwanga (Miba), the national mining company, in the city of Mbuji-Mayi in Kasai Oriental Province.
News of the deaths provoked public protests the following day in the diamond-rich city, with furious miners bringing seven corpses to the Miba offices, demanding restitution from the provincial governor.

"The investigation found that seven people died during a cave-in, but the archbishop representing the victims brought two other deaths under different circumstances to our attention, bringing the total of victims to nine," DRC Human Rights Minister Luaba Ntumba told IRIN.

According to Ntumba, autopsies found that the seven had died of suffocation, and not of gunshot wounds, as the local population and NGOs had claimed.

Although the inquiry determined that the suffocation had been caused by the collapse of tunnels dug by illegal miners, it did not determine the cause of the cave-in.

"We think that word of the arrival of police or security agents of Miba prompted the miners to panic and try to escape, which could have been the cause of the collapse of the tunnels," said Ntumba.

The investigation also found that between 3,000 to 5,000 illegal miners could be found daily in the tunnels, "digging in a disorderly manner".

However, the theory that the suffocation of the miners might have been provoked by Miba security guards has not been discounted, as many illegal miners who escaped the cave-in told the commission that two or three guards had blocked the entrance to the tunnels in which they were digging.

The commission of inquiry asked the Ministry of the Interior and the judicial system to open cases against the suspected guards, while the Cour d'Ordre Militaire (Military Order Court) has already opened such an investigation.

A small financial compensation has been paid to the families of the victims.

Meanwhile, Radiotelevision Amazone (RTA), a private broadcasting company based in Mbuji-Mayi, was shut down on Saturday by order of East Kasai Province Director Mutonj Mayand-a-Tshibang, the media watchdog Journaliste en danger (JED) reported on Wednesday.

According to accounts by RTA journalists reached by JED by telephone, the private broadcaster was accused of disseminating "unpleasant comments" and "false news" on a local language programme called "Lubila lwa Mukrezaka" ("The Voice of the Digger"). The programme, broadcast on 25 February, featured a contentious report on the Miba mining incident.

Two days prior to the station's closure, the programme "Lubila lwa Mukrezaka" was banned because of the same Miba mining deaths story.


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