Ethiopia suspends gold mining firm's license after weeks of protests

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia has suspended a gold mining firm’s license after weeks of protests in a town near the mine by local people who accuse the company of polluting their source of water and the atmosphere, a government official said.

“The ministry suspended the license in response to the demands of the people,” Bacha Faji, a spokesman for Ethiopia’s Ministry of Mines, Petroleum and Natural Gas, told state-affiliated television Fana.

Owned by Ethiopian-born Saudi billionaire Mohammed Hussein al-Amoudi, MIDROC Gold Mine Plc has operated the open-cast mine in Guji zone of the Oromia region for more than two decades.

The government’s decision to renew the mining license for MIDROC’s Lega Dembi mine last month led to two weeks of protests by Guji zone residents who accuse the company of polluting the environment and the Lega Dembi River and allege that the pollution is linked to a range of illnesses.

The company did not respond to requests for comment and has not commented on the matter in the past.

The mining firm’s owner, Amoudi, was among dozens of Saudi royals and top businessmen detained last year in an anti-corruption drive and is believed to be still held in Saudi Arabia.

According to MIDROC’s website, the gold mine has an average annual production of 4.5 tonnes.

Bacha said an independent body has been formed and had begun an impact assessment study of MIDROC’s operations.

It was not clear how long the assessment would take. Bacha said the final decision will depend on the outcome of the study.

Additional reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi in Dubai, Editing by George Obulutsa and Adrian Croft