* Reserves estimated at 736 million carats
* Output to reach 6 million carats a year at peak
By Tansa Musa
YAOUNDE, June 25 (Reuters) - Cameroon expects to become a significant diamond exporter from next year when it starts mining deposits discovered in the southeast, a senior official said on Thursday.
The discovery of gem quality and industrial diamonds was made by a joint Cameroon-Korean company, C&K Mining Inc., at Mobilong, close to the border with Congo Republic and the Central African Republic.
“The probable reserves are estimated at 736 million carats and will make Cameroon a leading diamond exporter when exploitation begins before the end of 2010 as we expect,” Oscar Matip, director of mines and geology, told reporters.
Output would be about 1 million carats in the first year but is expected to rise to 6 million carats at its peak.
Botswana’s Debswana, the world’s biggest diamond miner by value, has the capacity to produce about 33 million carats of the precious stones a year.
C&K Mining was created in 2005 as a joint venture between South Korea’s C&C Mining and the government of Cameroon. The Korean firm owns 80 percent of shares and Cameroon 20 percent.
Matip said the company would present its feasibility study on Mobilong later this year, following which an exploitation licence could be granted so mining could begin.
Diamond demand has been hit by the global financial crisis, but the world’s largest diamond group, De Beers, 45 percent owned by Anglo American PLC (AAL.L) has increased output in the second quarter after earlier cuts. De Beers owns half of Debswana.
Cameroon has been trying to diversify its economy away from crude oil, which accounts for around half of export earnings. It is also a producer of agricultural commodities including cocoa and coffee. (Editing by Matthew Tostevin)