KINSHASA (Reuters) - Fighting between the Congolese army and a local militia in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has forced Banro Corp’s Namoya gold mine to suspend all operations and temporarily evacuate its staff, the company said on Monday.
Twenty-three trucks belonging to a contractor of the mine were caught in cross-fire between soldiers and a local self-defense militia - identified by the army as Mai-Mai Yakutumba - near the town of Lulimba, Banro said in a statement.
Local army spokesman Captain Dieudonne Kasereka told Reuters on Monday that Mai-Mai Yakutumba fighters seized several towns from Congolese forces last week but that the army had mounted a counter-offensive to reclaim them. Ten militiamen and two army soldiers have died in fighting since Sunday, he added.
The drivers of the trucks were all safe but the militiamen have not yet cleared the release of the trucks, Banro said.
Desire Sangare, a Banro vice president, told Reuters that some workers had returned to Namoya on Monday following Saturday’s halt to work and that the remaining staff were expected back by Wednesday.
The fighting is the latest security episode to hit Banro’s operations in eastern Congo, home to dozens of militia groups that have continued to prey on the local population and exploit its vast mineral resources since the 2003 end of a regional war that killed millions.
Militiamen kidnapped five Namoya workers - who were later released - in March and three police officers were killed in a raid on Banro’s Twangiza gold mine in a neighboring province in February.
Reporting by Aaron Ross; Editing by Nellie Peyton/Keith Weir