Thousands of local residents destroyed a gemstone mining extraction site managed by Web Gemstone Mining Plc (WGM) at the Waqille Woreda, Web Kebele of Borena zone, last Tuesday.
WGM had been exploring for the precious stone in the area for the past three years and was in the last stages of evaluating the resource, according to Manoj Gaur, General Manager of WGM in Ethiopia.
The UK based company also has a presence on the South African stock exchange and is known for mining and marketing colored gemstones globally.
WGM said they invested around five million USD at the destroyed site over the past three years for exploration, according to the General Manager.
He told Capital that he and other professionals escaped the area fearing violent acts during the end of June when police stepped in.
WGM also has mines in Zambia, Mozambique, and Madagascar.
A worker at the site told Capital that thousands of people invaded the office, residential camps and the store house and that everything was violently destroyed. “The safe boxes and extracted samples were all compromised,” he said.
“We don’t know the exact damage now as no one can enter the area, but we are worried that if the essential documents are destroyed it will be difficult for our re-operation,” said Manoj.
“Local residents raised questions a few months earlier which the regional administrators came to resolve,” he said.
They wanted infrastructure built which the company promised to do. They were frustrated because they felt that it took over 11 years for the company to evaluate the site and inaugurate extraction, which they felt was too long.
The company said that it has only been there since 2015 and it was on the verge of finishing the exploration. The public was confused because there were previous projects conducted at the area and they assumed WGM was there for more than a decade.
The General Manager said the company was providing community services for the residents including sharing its water every day. Previously WGM shared their clinic with residents and created over 100 jobs.
“We were working in a total peace with the community before the situation changed suddenly, and when we reached the extraction stage there have been even more jobs,” said Manoj. “That’s how we do business globally and also we work in an environmentally friendly way, for example, we only use water to purify the bulk sample of the mineral.”
Some residents took to the streets the same day showing their opposition to the action, according to the Zone Administrator.
WGM was planning to extract the stone and export it to the global auction market. They are conducting an exploration study on 200sqm of land in attempts of finding 27km of potential emerald-mineralized area.