Zambia releases 31 Chinese detainees suspected of illegal mining
All 31 Chinese detained in Zambia since Saturday were released on Tuesday and put a flight back to China, state-run Xinhua news agency reported, citing the Chinese embassy in Lusaka.
The Chinese were arrested on suspicion of illegal mining in the copper-mining area of Chingola and picked up in a raid by police, intelligence and immigration officers, the Times of Zambia reported on Sunday.
The report quoted Zambian Home Affairs Minister Stephen Kampyongo as saying foreigners needed a licence to be involved in mining-related operations such as smelting.
“We are here to put to an end this criminality. Foreign investors who come into this country must work within the confines of the law. Those who break the law will be flushed out,” Kampyongo was quoted as saying.
“We are going to restore order in ... Chingola. It is saddening to see that even children below the age of 10 years are being used in illegal activities.”
China’s ambassador to Zambia, Yang Youming, met Kampyongo on Monday and urged Zambia to release the Chinese to “jointly maintain the good atmosphere for friendly cooperation between the two countries”.
China has been expanding its presence and investments in Africa, especially in resources and energy, and claims of Chinese involvement in illegal mining have been made before.
In 2013, authorities in Ghana arrested and repatriated 218 Chinese nationals after a series of raids on illegal gold mines.
Chinese companies have invested more than $1 billion in copper-rich Zambia but there has been animosity, with some Zambian workers accusing firms of abuses and underpaying.
In 2012, Zambian miners killed a Chinese supervisor and seriously wounded another in a pay dispute at a coal mine.
Zambian police charged two Chinese supervisors at the same coal mine with attempted murder two years earlier, after the shooting of 13 miners in a pay dispute.
Resource-hungry China is investing heavily in Africa, a supplier of oil and raw materials such as copper and uranium, but critics have warned its companies take with them their poor track record on workers’ rights and environmental protection.
Additional reporting by Reuters