Police flown to Irish mine in Mozambique to quell protest

A Mozambican police woman gestures on a street in Maputo on September 2, 2010.  By Arthur Frayer (AFP/File)

A Mozambican police woman gestures on a street in Maputo on September 2, 2010. By Arthur Frayer (AFP/File)

MAPUTO (AFP) – Mozambican riot police were Tuesday airlifted by private plane to quell a protest by hundreds of construction workers at an Irish-owned titanium mine in northern Mozambique, police said Wednesday.

The labour dispute, over severance pay, involved some 500 local contract workers employed by the Irish engineering and construction firm Kentz. It prompted the company to summon anti-riot police to the area, sending a private plane to pick up members of the poorly-equipped force.

“The company phoned and asked for help saying more than 500 workers were threatening to go on strike and destroy things,” the regional police spokesman in the northern Nampula province, Ernacio Dina, told AFP.

“The company sent an aeroplane to fly in the (police).”

Recent flooding in the area has left access roads to the mine impassable. The mine is located in a remote coastal area some 160 kilometres (100 miles) from the provincial capital.

Dina however denied reports in local media that riot police beat up protesters.

“There was no necessity to intervene. The information we received is that the management agreed to negotiate,” he said.

But one Kentz employee, speaking to AFP by telephone and asking not to be named for fear of reprisal from his employers, said some people had been beaten by police with rubber batons.

Kentz issued a statement saying “no employees were injured as a result of police action” and that deal was struck to end the protest.

“An agreement was reached with the striking workforce which was facilitated by the Ministry of Labour and the site was fully operational” by early Wednesday, it said.

The company said it was “monitoring the situation to ensure the safety and security of its employees.”

Kentz had hired the workers to build a separate mining facility for Dublin and London stock exchange-listed Kenmare Resources which has been dredging dune sands for titanium since 2007.

Workers complained severance packages paid out at the end of their contracts were too low and demanded details of how their payments were calculated.

Tensions between the community and the mine have been simmering for some time over the disparity between salaries of locals and expatriates, according to independent daily Mozambican paper, Canal Moz.

A Kentz engineer, Irishman William Deasy, was in February bludgeoned to death near his residential complex two days after he went missing. No arrests have been made so far in connection with the crime.