Mozambique: Ringleader of Illegal Miners Arrested

Maputo — Mozambique's National Criminal Investigation Service (SERNIC) has arrested a Tanzanian woman, accused of heading the network of illegal miners who operate within the concession granted to the company, Montepuez Ruby Mining (MRM), in the northern province of Cabo Delgado.

The Tanzanian has been named as Aisha Assumane. She was arrested in Montepuez town following SERNIC's investigation into the latest illegal mining tragedy, when, on 2 April, a mine shaft collapsed and killed two miners.

Assumane is accused of heading the group of which the two miners who died in the collapse were also part. They have been named as Beka Mariatabo and Ntchiquitchi Ligaga, both Mozambican citizens and natives of Cabo Delgado. SERNIC says that the Tanzanian is also a key player in the illegal trade in rubies smuggled out of the Montepuez concession.

A statement issued by MRM says that the company is greatly concerned at "the growing number of incidents, attacks and fatalities involving illegal miners".

It noted that local communities in Montepuez district are under pressure due to the influx of illegal miners from other parts of Cabo Delgado, from neighbouring provinces, and from other countries.

"Unsafe practices by the illegal miners, who are usually supervised or coerced by syndicates smuggling precious stones, financed by foreign traders operating in the region, are continuing to result in the unnecessary loss of human lives", say the MRM statement.

MRM holds a 25 year concession on an area of 340 square kilometres in Montepuez, believed to contain the largest ruby deposit in the world. It is 75 per cent owned by the London based company Gemfields, and 25 per cent by the Mozambican company Mwiriti.

According to the MRM website, the company produced 28,700 carats of premium rubies in 2020. Since 2014, it has generated sales revenue of 642.9 million US dollars.

MRM says that, unlike the illegal miners, it pays all taxes owing to the Mozambican state for its operations.

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