Canadian miners pursue prospects in war-torn Tigray

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A devastating war still rages on, with the Tigre region in northern Ethiopia becoming a land of famine, genocide and brutal destruction. Its suffering has led to accusations of genocide, threats of sanctions and fears of humanitarian catastrophe.

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But some Canadian gold-mining companies see Tigre as something else: a potential bonus. As the war deepens, their struggle for mineral rights continues, leading the miners to believe there are billions of dollars in gold in the area.

At least two Vancouver-based junior companies have been in contact with the Ethiopian government during the Tigre conflict this year, which is pushing to secure licenses and rights for their projects in the region.

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One of the companies, East Africa Metals Inc., has written privately to the government to suggest that its affiliates are prepared to invest US$120 million in Tigre. In the same letter, the company calls for improvements to its tenure protections so that it can block claims from a rival Canadian company.

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Canadian miners’ lobbying has sparked criticism from Canadian and Tigreyan activists, who are concerned that the investment could affect Ottawa’s position on the war and encourage Ethiopia to prolong its military campaign in the Tigre.

East Africa Metals has repeatedly stated in press releases and social-media comments in recent months that it is close to resuming operations at Tigre.

In its letter to the Ethiopian government earlier this year, the company said it had found US$3 billion in gold in Tigre and was “ready to begin its exploration and construction programme.”

On its website, the company promotes Tigre as the historic home of the King Solomon Mines—a tribute to his great wealth over the centuries. It says it has invested more than US$50 million in the area in recent years.

Another company, Parallel Mining Corp. announced on 22 September that the Ethiopian Ministry of Mines has granted it an exploration license for gold and base metals at a site in Tigre. In an earlier deal in February, the company bought a 95 percent interest in two mining property licenses in Tigre from the Ethiopian government, describing their gold potential as “incredible.”

Chinese mining companies are also active in Tigre, partly due to deals with Canadian miners. East Africa Metals has sold a 70 percent interest in one of its Tigre projects to the China-based Tibet Huayu Mining Company, and has reached an agreement to sell a 70 percent stake in another Tigre project to Jijin Mining Group. company limited,

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Overall, at least six Canadian-based companies hold active licenses in Tigre, an area of ​​more than 2,600 square kilometers, according to a leaked report in June by consultants to a Canadian-funded program supporting Ethiopia’s mining sector. covers.

The six-year, $15-million program, funded by Canada’s Department of Global Affairs, was launched in 2016. It aims to improve licensing, governance and geosciences in Ethiopia’s mining industry, partly by adopting Canada’s own mining sector policies.

The leaked report by Sidney Coles stated, “Such assistance to the Ethiopian government has directly benefited Canadian mining interests across the country, but most dangerously in the Tigre region where the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea have.” He has been accused of involvement in genocidal activities.” A consultant who evaluated a Canada-funded project for one of his partners, the Canadian Executive Services Organization.

Ethiopia’s government wants to increase its mining exports to 10 percent of GDP over the next decade, compared to less than 1 percent today. But it cannot fully realize its mining potential without the technical expertise and equipment of Canada and other mining companies, the advisory report said.

It suggested that the Canadian government could soften its criticism of human rights abuses in Tigre as “protecting its development aid investments and the interests of Canadian mining companies”.

John Babcock, a spokesman for Global Affairs Canada, denied the allegation and said Canadian authorities had issued several statements of concern about alleged atrocities in Tigre.

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In June, the Canadian Embassy in Ethiopia tweeted that Canada’s ambassador, Stephen Jobin, met with Ethiopia’s Mining Minister, Takele Uma Bunty, to discuss the possibility of further investment in the mining sector “when conditions permit”. Can go The tweet was later deleted.

Mr Babcock said the tweet was removed because it “could be seen to be related to the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia, which was not intended.”

He confirmed that two Canadian mining companies with assets in Tigre had been assisted by the Canadian Trade Commissioner’s Service, although he did not name them. He said the two companies have suspended operations in Tigre since the start of the war last November.

East Africa Metals and Parallel Mining did not respond to e-mailed questions from The Granthshala about their Tigre operations. From his public statements, however, it is clear that he has continued to pursue licensure and other activities in the Tigre since the start of the war.

For example, in May, East Africa Metals said it had “productive meetings” with Ethiopian officials and expected commercial activity in Tigre “to return to normal in the near future.” It also announced plans for a $2.7 million exploration program at Tigre.

In a series of tweets from June to September, the company repeatedly suggested that it was close to restarting its drilling and mine construction at Tigre.

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And in his letter to the Ethiopian government in March, the company’s president, Andrew Lee Smith, said the company’s partners are ready to invest US$120 million in the construction of two mines in Tigre. “Contracted to drilling companies and fully pre-paid, the equipment is mobilized in Ethiopia and has been in storage since February 2020,” he said.

Mr Smith’s letter complained that Parallel Mining was seeking an exploration license at a site in Tigre where East Africa Metals already owns exploration rights. He threatened to initiate legal action against the government if his company’s rights were not recognized on the site. This, in turn, would damage Ethiopia’s reputation and cause “embarrassment” to the Canadian government, he said.

Activists are criticizing the Canadian government and mining companies for their activities in Ethiopia. “Canada is more interested in promoting and facilitating Canadian mining investment than in strengthening human rights, justice and equality,” said Jamie Kane, communications coordinator at Miningwatch Canada, an independent group based in Ottawa.

“No one should invest where there is a significant risk that they could benefit, be rewarded, or contribute to serious human rights violations,” he told The Granthshala.

Teklehamnot Veldemichel, a Tigrean scholar at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, said the Ethiopian government is desperate for revenue to advance its costly Tigre military campaign, and Canadian investment could be a source of that revenue. He told The Granthshala in an interview that many Tigraians are disappointed in Canada’s exploration of mining possibilities in the region.

An adviser to the Tigre People’s Liberation Front, Feseha Tesema, the rebel militia that controls most of the region, said the Canadian government has been relatively calm on the Tigre conflict compared to other countries, and the influence of mining companies may be the cause. .

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“There can only be one logical reason for Canada’s silence on Tigre: lobbying by its mining companies,” he told The Granthshala in an interview.

zechariah zelalem is special

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