By Parach Mach
JUBA, South Sudan
Large quantities of gold from war-torn South Sudan are being illegally siphoned off to other countries, including United Arab Emirates, a senior Ministry of Petroleum and Mining official told Anadolu Agency Friday.
“We know much gold is going out but the actual amount, we don’t; illegal buyers are coming in from other countries to purchase gold and send it on to countries like the United Arab Emirates, especially Dubai,” the ministry’s Undersecretary Andu Ezbon Adde said in an interview in the capital Juba.
Artisanal mining is especially rife in the country’s central, southern and northwestern regions, which in turn finds markets in Uganda and Kenya, Adde said.
A total of 60 investment companies which showed interest in gold mining in the country during a 2013 investment conference have not returned, leaving exploitation of gold in the hands of about 60,000 artisanal miners, who are dealing directly with unlicensed gold traders coming in from the East African region, he said.
“We asked dealers in April 2015 to come and get license but up to now, only one person has responded,” he said.
Companies such as New Kush Exploration and Equator Gold Ltd. that had been licensed to begin work have stopped explorations as a result of the crisis. “Huge amounts of gold from our country would have been on the international market by 2018 but now all this is not there,” he added.
The huge deposits of minerals are spread across the country, with gold, copper and uranium being the major components, Adde said. Studies done in just one area in Western Bahr el-Ghazal alone in the 1980s revealed 40 million tons of ore, carrying 10 percent copper and 5 grams per ton of gold, he said.
“Nobody knows the extent of South Sudan's mineral reserves because the 50-year war prevented exploration; there's a lot of stuff here but people don't know about it. They're too focused on oil," he added.
The government is looking for ways to manage artisanal mining but outlawing them is not an option, he said.
“The income from this gold mining is critical for these people in terms of medical bills, education bills and also food itself,” he said.
“To stop them suddenly will make them despair because you are removing their source of livelihood, so if it is to be done, it will have to be done very carefully. The natives will have to be given something so that they continue living,” he added.
The mining sector itself is underfunded and of 28 million South Sudanese pounds ($2.5 million) budgeted for the ministry yearly, only six million have been availed annually over the last two years to cater for salaries and operations cost only, with no capital to cater for exploration, he said.
South Sudan ravaged by three years civil war broke into chaos in 2013 when President Salva Kiir accused his sacked deputy Riek Machar of coup, resulting into bitter fight along ethnic lines.
The conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives and forced 3 nearly million people to flee their homes and slashed oil production by at least a third to about 130,000 barrels a day.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.