UPDATE 1-Under pressure, AJN Resources scraps planned Kibali stake purchase

(Adds Congolese government comment)

JOHANNESBURG, March 2 (Reuters) - AJN Resources has scrapped a plan to purchase a 10% stake in Congo’s biggest gold mine from state-owned gold firm SOKIMO, buckling to pressure from Barrick, the operator and 45% stakeholder of the Kibali mine which opposed the deal.

The Canadian junior miner’s shares tumbled nearly 50% last week after Reuters reported Barrick issued a cease-and-desist notice to block the Kibali stake purchase.

“As a result of its due diligence and further information received, will not proceed with its proposed acquisition of SOKIMO’s 10% free carried interest in the Kibali Gold Mine,” the company announced in a release late on Sunday.

The transaction, announced in an AJN statement on Feb. 6 that cited a memorandum of understanding with SOKIMO, would have required approval from both Barrick and Anglogold Ashanti, each of whom own 45% of Kibali.

Congolese civil society groups added to the pressure on AJN, demanding transparency over the deal and asking why SOKIMO’s stake sales were not subject to an open tender.

Congo’s public portfolio ministry emphasised in a statement on Monday that AJN had only announced its intention to buy the stake and that no final deal had been reached. The final word on any deal will belong to the government, it said.

AJN said it was continuing due diligence on other projects it plans to acquire from SOKIMO (Société Minière de Kilo-Moto), namely 30% stakes in Zani-Kodo, Nizi, and Kibali South, and 35% stakes in Giro Goldfields and Wanga (Tendao).

AJN Resources’ Frankfurt-listed shares were up 5.1% by 1026 GMT on Monday after the announcement. (Reporting by Helen Reid; Additional reporting by Stanis Bujakera in Kinshasa; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and David Evans)