Calm has returned to Sierra Leone’s northern mining city of Bunbuna, following a violent protest amidst a mine workers strike, which left three people dead and at least eight others injured on Wednesday.
Initial report said a woman was shot dead on Wednesday in Sierra Leone after a protest by miners at an iron mine owned by London-based African Minterals turned violent, with police firing tear gas, police said.
Assistant police superintendent Ibrahim Samura denied reports on local radio that the police had fired on the crowd in a bid to disperse the protesters at the Bumbuna mine 160 miles (256 km) north of the capital.
“The strikers were trying to disarm one of the armed police when his gun went off accidentally and the stray shot hit the woman who was in her compound.
“As far as we are concerned, the police only fired teargas canisters to quell the rampaging strikers to prevent them from advancing into a fuel depot where over six large containers are located. If this had been set on fire, it could have spelled disaster for the area.”
Samura said some 26 people had been arrested.
Local media reported the woman was killed by stray police bullets which left many others wounded and that Internal Affairs Minister Musa Tarawally was would head a government investigation into the events. The death toll went up to three after the clashes between protesters and police escalated.
The striking workers downed tools two days ago calling for increased wages and better working conditions and improved medical facilities.
“We are working long hours without overtime at the mines,” one irate miner said in a telephone interview, asking not to be identified. He also claimed foreign workers received preferential salaries and treatment.
A company official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the strikers had on Monday torched a jeep worth thousands of dollars.
African Minerals is one of the biggest in the iron-ore mining industry in the country whose deposit of the mineral is billed as the largest reported magnetite iron-ore deposit in the world.
In November 2011 it carried out the first iron-ore shipment from the war-torn country in 30 years.
After the situation went out of hand, police authorities are said to have sent in more reinforcement to the area to put the situation under control, as youths have reportedly gone on the rampage, blocking roads leading to the mining company’s headquarters.
WADR’s Freetown Correspondent said a high-level government delegation visited the area Wednesday night to assess the situation and hear first- hand accounts of what led to the violence there.
The delegation included the ministers of Mines, Presidential Affairs, Information and Communication, Labour and Industrial Relations.
Police have now admitted using Excessive force but say it was in self defense.
Police reinforcement was sent to the area to put the situation under control, as youths have reportedly gone on the rampage, blocking roads leading to the mining company’s headquarters.
Meanwhile, authorities have scheduled a meeting with the striking mine workers of the Bunbuna mine for next Tuesday.
Bunbuna is also home to the country’s largest hydro electric dam.
WADR’s Freetown correspondent Mohamed Konneh has been closely monitoring the situation and he reports.
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