UPDATE 1-Rio Tinto to restart South African unit in 2020 after security scare

(Adds background on South Africa security situation, details about unit operations in the country)

Dec 30 (Reuters) - Global miner Rio Tinto said on Monday full operations at its South African unit Richard Bay Minerals (RBM) will resume in early January after cutting back because of security concerns for its workers.

Rio said regular production by RBM, which produces ilmenite ore for titanium from mineral sand deposits, will be reached in early 2020, and that it was contacting customers who were earlier told about disruptions to their supply.

“A phased restart is now in progress across the operation,” Rio Tinto said in a statement.

There have been a number of violent incidents at mines across South Africa, including robberies, that have raised questions about the lack of security and the threats they pose to the industry.

Earlier in December, the Anglo-Australian miner said one of its unit’s employees was shot and that there was escalating violence against them, causing a curtailment in operations.

“I would like to thank the Government of South Africa and the Premier of KwaZulu-Natal for their support and assistance in getting us to a position where we can restart operations at RBM,” Bold Baatar, Rio’s chief executive of Energy and Minerals said in a statement.

The decision in early December also included a pause in the construction of the $463 million Zulti South project which will extend Richards Bay Minerals mine life and maintain current capacity.

Rio says it will review Zulti South after operations at RBM normalise. (Reporting by Nikhil Kurian Nainan in Bengaluru; Editing by Tom Hogue and Christian Schmollinger)