Category : World
Date : 26.03.2004
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the British Ambassador to the Democratic
Republic of Congo have expressed concern after BBC World Service has
found evidence that thousands of illegal miners are mining radioactive
minerals at Shinkolobwe in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The British Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Jim Atkinson,
has described it as "a worrying development, particularly in the
present climate of international terrorism and the search and attempts
to control weapons of mass destruction or their development.
"This is obviously something that we shall have
to look into urgently with our other international partners and see
what we can do about it," he said.
The Shinkolobwe mine was flooded by the Belgian colonial power in 1945
and is now a restricted area.
But a BBC World Service correspondent who visited the
area says thousands of illegal miners are extracting material containing
cobalt, copper, platinum and uranium.
Uranium extracted from Shinkolobwe was used to make
the nuclear bombs that destroyed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and
The BBC World Service correspondent also witnessed truck
loads of material driving away from the Shinkolobwe mine to an unknown
destination through dense jungle.
An IAEA spokesperson, Melissa Fleming, said: We are of course
aware of the turbulent situation in terms of security and political
situation in the region.
"We're aware that the government itself may not
be fully aware of the activities ongoing in some parts of the country.
"That said, we are demanding information on the
government on these alleged mining activities.
"It is a scenario where we could ask for a special
so called 'complementary access inspection' and this is something that
is being considered."
The DRC is obliged to report any uranium mining activities
as well as exports, she said.
Speaking on BBC World Service, DRC's Minister of Mines said he had appealed
for international help in controlling activities at Shinkolobwe.
"The situation is very dangerous. We need to protect
this area. We are waiting for international support to protect the area,"
the Mines Minister, Eugene Diomi Ndongola, said.
He had been in contact with United States diplomats
in Kinshasa and the World Bank to end exploitation of the site, he said.
He had heard that during the war the mine had been visited
by Chinese, North Koreans and other Africans, he said.
A miner at Shinkolobwe told BBC World Service: "We come here early
in the morning, about seven-thirty, and we dig all day with shovels,
hammers and pick-axes."