Miners Vale, Rio Tinto accused of neglecting displaced Mozambicans

MAPUTO Thu May 23, 2013 3:00am EDT

MAPUTO May 23 (Reuters) - Human Rights Watch accused Mozambique's government and foreign mining companies on Thursday of "serious shortcomings" in resettling communities to make way for coal mines, leaving thousands without proper homes, food or sources of income.

In a report on the social impact of a mining boom in the war-scarred southern African country, the New York-based group noted the plight of more than 2,000 families displaced to make way for multi-billion dollar coal mines run by Vale and Rio Tinto.

Families in the northwest province of Tete had faced "significant and sustained disruptions in accessing food, water and work" since being moved between 2009 and 2011, the report said.

Vale, based in Rio De Janeiro and Rio Tinto, based in London, have invested nearly $10 billion in mines in Tete.

Tete, located on the Zambezi River, is home to an estimated 23 billion tonnes of coal, some of the world's biggest untapped reserves.

Mozambique's off-shore Rovuma natural gas fields are believed to hold enough energy to supply Germany, Britain, France and Italy for 15 years.

Human Rights Watch urged the government to strengthen its regulation of mining investments, broaden community participation and issue clearer guidelines for future resettlements.

"Mozambique's government ... should review, and if necessary, halt, the process of awarding prospecting licenses and mining concessions to ensure that appropriate sites for resettlement are available," the report said.

Vale has resettled more than 1,300 households to make room for its Moatize Coal mine in Tete and Rio Tinto has resettled 84 households at its nearby Benga mine. It is due to resettle 500 more next year.

In early 2012, 500 residents of Cateme, one of Vale's resettlement villages, took to the streets when cracks opened in their company-built houses only months after they moved in, crops failed and jobs at the mines dried up.

This month, the main rail route from the Tete coal fields to the Indian Ocean port of Beira was blocked by bricklayers protesting terms of their relocation.

Vale has said it has introduced programs to train local residents on everything from railway operation to agriculture but often not enough jobs are on offer. This year, more than 6,000 people applied for just 150 internship positions.

The company has also been on a public relations offensive, taking journalists on a tour of its Tete operations to demonstrate its long-term commitment to community relations.

"We want to ensure that the public understands Vale's commitment to life goes beyond a PowerPoint," Altiberto Brandao, head of its Mozambique coal operations, told Reuters.

Rio Tinto did not respond to requests for comment on the Human Rights Watch report.

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