March 25, 2013 / 6:31 PM / in 5 years

Governor says attack hurts image of Congo mining hub

* Mining, transport unaffected by attack, governor says

* Raid on city tarnishes province’s safe image

* Region produces huge amounts of copper, cobalt, tin

By Bienvenu Bakumanya and Clara Ferreira-Marques

KINSHASA/LONDON, March 25 (Reuters) - An attack by some 300 rebels on the Democratic Republic of Congo’s second city, Lubumbashi, has tarnished the image of the country’s mining hub but has not interrupted operations, the region’s governor said on Monday.

Lubumbashi and the wider southern province of Katanga have been seen as among the safest in a country riven by armed conflict. Billions of dollars of investment have poured in to tap its copper, cobalt and tin deposits following years of underinvestment.

But the region also has some of Congo’s poorest pockets, and rebel fighters feeding off local grievances and decades-old secessionist sentiment have run increasingly audacious forays outside their heartland in the region’s northeast.

The government said on Sunday around 300 Mai Mai Kata Katanga separatists attacked the city armed mainly with bows and arrows and machetes. It said troops killed about 15 of them while nearly 250 others surrendered.

A witness to Saturday’s attack said the group had attempted to hoist the flag of Katanga’s short-lived 1960s-era independent republic before members of the army’s elite Republican Guard launched a counter-attack.

“People are freely going about their business. I have just toured the city to offer moral support to those touched by the events,” Katanga’s influential governor, Moise Katumbi, said in a telephone interview.

“But this type of action, carried out by adventurers, tarnishes the image of our city and our province.”

Katumbi said the situation was normal on Congo’s critical frontier with Zambia, a gateway for the bulk of the copper produced in Katanga.

The province hosts several international mining companies, including Freeport McMoRan and commodities trader Glencore and exports about half a million tonnes of copper a year.

An official for Freeport said the company was operating normally. “Our transport routes are secure... TFM employees from Lubumbashi and Kolwezi have reported to work. There has been no additional need for security measures at this time,” said Dieudonne Lukoji, a Freeport spokesman.

Glencore and ENRC, among the largest mining companies operating in the region, declined to comment.

Industry officials in the area said mines across the province were operating normally, with copper being transported out after customs officials resumed work.

“Things are going as usual. No delays because of the attacks this weekend,” one logistics industry source said. “We are loading and dispatching trucks normally.”

“The events happened over the weekend. This morning, we have been able to export. The immediate impact is barely perceptible,” said Eric Monga, president of the mining sector of the Katanga chapter of the Congo Business Federation.

Millions have died in the vast former Belgian colony’s long-simmering armed conflicts concentrated in the eastern borderlands. A separate rebellion briefly saw insurgents seize the capital of North Kivu province’s capital, Goma, before fighters withdrew to allow for peace talks.

It remained unclear whether the Mai Mai Kata Katanga was likely to continue attacks in the region.

“These disturbances have not had a big impact on mining activity, since most of the mining operations are outside Lubumbashi,” said Jean-Pierre Muteba, spokesman for a coalition of civil society groups in Katanga.

“But in the long term, this could hurt our image.”

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