LIBREVILLE, March 29 Top global miner BHP
Billiton is freezing all its projects in Gabon,
mining ministry sources said on Friday, dashing government hopes
for sizeable investments in manganese and iron ore production.
A spokesman for BHP could not immediately be reached for
The company holds licences in the Central African country
for the mining of manganese at Mounana, 650 km east of the
capital Libreville, and at Okondja, 150 km further to the north.
Government officials had also said BHP signed a contract a
year ago for the Belinga iron ore mine, in northeast Gabon,
edging out China's Comibel. BHP has declined to comment on this.
"We respect the decision by BHP to freeze its activities in
Gabon," said a senior official at the mining ministry who asked
not to be identified. "At the same time this is a blow to the
country, which hoped to become the world's largest exporter of
Gabon is the world's second-largest producer of the mineral,
an ingredient in making steel, after South Africa.
France's Eramet has been mining manganese at
Moanda in southeast Gabon for some 50 years through its Comilog
Another senior ministry official said the decision had not
been well received by the government. "This situation is going
to jeopardize the agreement signed between the government and
the company for the exploitation of iron ore at Belinga."
The two sources said BHP's withdrawal would be officially
announced in the coming days. BHP has already closed its office
The Australian miner has also all but pulled out of Guinea,
where Brazil's Vale and Rio Tinto
have also put their investments on ice amid a government mining
sector review and sagging iron ore prices.
BHP's chief executive last year questioned West Africa's
iron ore ambitions, saying that Australia and Brazil alone could
feed global demand.
The Belinga project, like other iron ore developments in
West Africa, has huge potential but faces political uncertainty
and significant infrastructure hurdles.
Belinga could provide a significant economic boost for Gabon
as the government seeks to expand exports and diversify away
from oil, but the project has faced a series of delays and
China's CMEC, which had secured rights to Belinga in a 2007
deal, lost the concession following concerns about its
environmental impact and the company's ability to deliver.