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Sierra Leone attacks report exposing mining-friendly ‘prosperity agenda’

Sierra Leone(GIN) — Sierra Leone’s pro-government media went on the attack this week to condemn a report by the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch titled: “Whose Development? Human Rights Abuses in Sierra Leone’s Mining Boom,” which documents widespread violations in the mining sector.

A piece by Newstime Africa tore into the rights group, saying their report contained “wild, wicked, criminal and unsubstantiated allegations against African Minerals Ltd., and the government of Sierra Leone” amounting to “a deliberate attempt to incite hate against their targets (AML and the government of Sierra Leone), and by extension cause chaos in the country.”

A photo of HRW researcher, Rona Peligal, (captioned “in a regret mood”) in the Newstime piece,  described her leaving the conference hall after the report was launched, “bowing her head in complete shame and devastation, after her attempt to blackmail the government of Sierra Leone and AML boomeranged and crashed right in front of her face.”

President Ernest Koroma, slamming the report, said, “Saboteurs can connive and talk as much as they want, the AML dream will remain alive.” Koroma has been pursuing an “Agenda for Prosperity” supported by the World Bank, the IMF and companies attracted by the country’s vast riches.

The strategy yielded 21 percent growth in 2012, according to the IMF — the fastest of any economy in sub-Saharan Africa — although the boom did little to improve living conditions for Sierra Leone’s six million people, say rights activists.

In its 96-page report, HRW cited the forced relocation of hundreds of farm families from fertile slopes to a flat, arid area in Tonkolili District.

“People were moved because African Minerals needed to mine for the iron ore around their homes,” Peligal said. “They weren’t paid enough for their homes, nor can they farm, nor have they gotten jobs at the company, so economically they are struggling much more than they thought they would, according to what they were told by the company and the paramount chief prior to the relocation.»

In another incident, AML workers in Bumbuna, north of Freetown, held a strike for better working conditions, better pay and the right to form their own union. Armed police intervened, killing one and injuring several others.

Mining accounted for almost 60 percent of export revenues in 2010, including $132-million in diamonds, $33-million for rutile and $31-million for bauxite.

The sector provides employment and livelihood to over 135,000 workers, but rights campaigners point to the “resource curse” and the seemingly inevitable corruption, social troubles and violence that accompany such wealth.

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