Guinea orders probe after killings at mine protest

CONAKRY Wed Aug 8, 2012 10:57am EDT

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CONAKRY (Reuters) - Guinea said it had launched an investigation into violence near a large iron ore mine project as a report seen by Reuters on Wednesday showed photos of five people rights groups said had been killed there by security forces putting down a protest.

The clashes between security forces and villagers demanding jobs took place last week in Zogota, where Brazil's Vale and Israeli billionaire Beny Steinmetz's BSG Resources (BSGR) are jointly seeking to develop an iron ore mine, an official in the mines ministry said.

"A legal inquiry has been opened ... the president of the republic and the government would like to reassure citizens and investors that every effort will be made to find out what happened in Zogota and punish those responsible," said the government statement, read out on state media.

There was no immediate comment from either mining company, but a Vale official said on condition of anonymity that staff had been evacuated from the site following the incident.

Zogota is in the far south-east of Guinea, an impoverished West African nation with vast unexploited mineral resources. The government said there had been some deaths but gave no further details.

A report by a collection of local rights groups who visited Zogota on August 4, seen by Reuters on Wednesday, showed photos of five people it said had been killed when soldiers dispatched to Zogota opened fire.

"The village is virtually completely abandoned, especially by women and children. Some adult and young men, armed with guns, catapults, bows and arrows and machetes, remain on guard," the report said.

BSGR and Vale signed a 2010 deal to jointly develop iron ore projects in Zogota and in Simandou, just to the north, but the government has not yet approved the deal, which is part of a number of accords being reviewed by the administration.

(Reporting by Saliou Samb; Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

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