Chinese firms to dig out Gabon’s iron ore

Libreville, June 17:

A gigantic project to tap huge iron ore reserves in Gabon is at last set to get off the ground after months of intensive negotiations between the west African state and China.

Following a visit by three top Gabonese officials to Beijing, the Libreville government last

week unveiled a long-awaited timetable for essential infrastructure work as well as a list of

Chinese companies that will do the job.

Production at the facility, located in Belinga, northeastern Gabon, is expected to start in 2011. “We have agreed on the legal framework for the operation, the Chinese have designated the constituent companies and its financial organisation,” said Gabon’s minister for mines, Richard Auguste Onouviet.

“Contrary to what one has heard up to now the project is on the rails. It was difficult to get going but the teething problems common to an operation of such a size are now behind us.” Last year Gabon gave China sole rights to exploit untapped iron ore reserves, saying it would create “thousands of jobs” for the Gabonese.

Iron ore was discovered in 1955 at Belinga, which lies in remote forest hills 500 kilometres (300 miles) east of Libreville, the capital and port on Gabon’s Atlantic coast.

Believed to be one of the last major untapped iron ore reserves on the planet, the Belinga site has never been developed because of the prohibitive cost of the necessary infrastructure. Costly rail links are needed to reach the reserves in the tropical forest.