Ouagadougou – Six people died after sneaking into a goldmine in Burkina Faso, police said on Thursday, leading to angry scenes in which the mine was vandalised and vehicles were torched.
The artisanal miners “had smuggled themselves into the old chambers of the Bissa Goldmine” in northern Bam province on Wednesday, police said in a statement.
A subsequent search by security workers at the site discovered “six lifeless bodies, probably dead from lack of air due to the depth of the holes”, the statement added.
Seven other informal miners were found injured.
One of those later died, bringing the total toll to seven, local residents said.
People living nearby, mainly other gold miners, then took their anger out on the mine site, causing “significant material damage”, according to a worker at the site.
“There was damage to the plant, more than a dozen vehicles were set on fire” before security forces secured the site, a mine official said.
The official stressed that mining operations had been stopped “in memory of the victims”.
The police statement made no mention of any damage to the site but asked the local population “to remain calm and restrained” while reminding them of the government’s rules on illegal mining.
Such mining incidents are all too common in Burkina Faso, with the communities living close to mines feeling that the benefits they receive from large-scale industrial mining are too low.
In recent years gold has become a strategic sector in Burkina Faso, an impoverished nation of 20 million people which used to rely on cotton exports.
The 17 industrial goldmines in operation in Burkina Faso contributed more than 13 percent of the national GDP in 2019.
Burkina Faso, one of the world’s poorest countries, is also struggling with an insurgency that swept in from neighbouring Mali in 2015.
The fighting has claimed more than 1 400 lives and forced 1.3 million people from their homes.
Jihadist groups often target goldmine workers.
In November 2019, at least 38 people were killed and 63 were injured in an attack on a convoy transporting workers at a Canadian-run goldmine in the eastern town of Boungo.
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