A dispute over a bridge in eastern Sierra Leone thought to span diamond deposits has divided a local community with a foreign mining company accused of illegally mining the area after volunteering to rebuild the overpass.
The Congo Bridge in Koidu, the capital of Kono District, was deemed by local authorities to be in danger of collapsing after years of illegal small-scale mining around the base, according to a Reuters report.
With backing from the government, structural repairs started in mid-2016 by Israeli owned Pluto Mining Company but this prompted fears of large-scale mining as excavators removed raw materials from under the road, river banks and nearby wetlands.
A coalition of Kono activists joined Sierra Leone's Environmental Protection Authority and National Minerals Agency to condemn the bridge work that removed the natural buffer and led to the flooding of local houses, making more than 60 people homeless. The groups say this is one example in an ongoing wave of foreign companies stepping in to offer free infrastructure repair as a means to conduct exploratory work in mining-free zones, overriding local residents' rights to land.
"We've contacted people in our own agencies, we've sent notices for them to stop, but the mining goes on," K.K. Dabor, regional head of Sierra Leone's Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "Rivers, wetlands, the hills, even people's livelihoods. All are being destroyed in one way or another."
Despite the protests, Dabor said a similar situation unfolded in 2013 with Pluto while a large plot on a road leading out of Koidu is currently being mined and signs saying "Property of Pluto Mining" are clearly visible despite the Mines and Minerals Act of 2009 making it illegal to mine within 200 meters of town. Pluto Mining did not respond to numerous telephone calls and written requests seeking comment over several weeks.