SA managers detained

2013-02-14 00:00

FOUR South Africans were still in custody in Freetown, Sierra Leone, yesterday afternoon after they reportedly had problems with their work permits and were arrested on Monday.

The four, who include two women, were told on Saturday to leave the diamond mine project on which they worked and to report to the authorities in Freetown. They were then arrested on charges of using fraudulent documents and working with permits that were not in order.

However, the state dropped the fraud charges yesterday afternoon.

Anxious friends and family of the four yesterday expressed concern on Facebook about the conditions in which they were being detained.

Niqui Irle (30) is one of the detained workers. She is head of community upliftment at the Koidu diamond mine, the biggest of its kind in Sierra Leone.

Along with Irle, three managers — of human resources, security and operations — are being detained. Only their first names, Andries, Mario and Juanita, could be obtained from informed sources in Freetown yesterday.

The telephone line for the mine’s office in the Kono district, west of Freetown, is out of order. The phone of the mine’s communications officer, Ibrahim Kamara, was switched off.

The mine is managed mostly by South Africans and in the past has been held up as a success story in promoting stability and progress in an economy wrecked by violence.

The mine is owned by the Beny Steinmetz group in its Octea division. It was created in 2003 and, according to its website, produces up to 500 000 carats of diamonds per year.

The problems at the mine started late last year when heavy rains delayed production. Bonuses were not paid out in December and the miners became unhappy.

Some buildings were reportedly set alight and local police shot dead two miners during riots.

A new management team was appointed, including the four departmental heads who have been arrested.

It was reportedly that the local department of labour ordered the four to report to the immigration department and police. They were then arrested and summarily locked up.

They were to appear in court yesterday or today. They face a fine or prison term if found guilty of working on permits that are not in order.

International Relations Department spokesperson Clayson Monyela said South Africa does not have diplomatic representation in Sierra Leone. He was not aware of the arrests.

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