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(Adds Chamber of Mines comment)
LUSAKA, June 24 (Reuters) - Zambia is withholding $600 million in VAT refunds owed to copper mining companies and will repay the cash only when they produce import certificates from destination countries, mining minister Christopher Yaluma said on Tuesday.
"That money is owed and we will have to pay as long as they fulfil the requirement. It was slightly above $600 million as at the end of May," Yaluma told reporters on the sidelines of a mining conference in the southern African nation's capital.
The government in Africa's second biggest copper producer last year started enforcing a 2008 requirement that exporters provide it with foreign country import certificates for copper shipments in order to curb tax avoidance.
However, the companies complained that they were often unable to do so because they sold via middle-men.
The companies affected include the local units of First Quantum Minerals, Vedanta Resources, Barrick Gold and Glencore Xstrata.
Yaluma said they had started producing the correct documentation after meeting Ministry of Finance officials three weeks ago, although the Chamber of Mines of Zambia, the main industry body, disputed this.
"There has been no movement towards finding an amicable solution to this problem," chamber president Emmanuel Mutati said. (Reporting by Chris Mfula; Editing by Ed Cropley)