10 000 families to be moved from DR Congo cobalt site - provincial governor

File photo showing a child and a woman breaking rocks extracted from a cobalt mine at a copper quarry and cobalt pit in Lubumbashi, DR Congo. (Junior Kannah/AFP)
File photo showing a child and a woman breaking rocks extracted from a cobalt mine at a copper quarry and cobalt pit in Lubumbashi, DR Congo. (Junior Kannah/AFP)

DR Congo authorities are to pay some 10 000 families to move away from a south-eastern town sitting atop billions of dollars worth of cobalt, a provincial governor said Tuesday.

"If the state determines that it is in the interest of the entire nation, it can relocate and compensate the inhabitants," said Richard Muyej, governor of Lualaba province and a former interior minister.

He said the relocation plan would cost some $800 million.

Impoverished but mineral-rich DR Congo is the world's largest producer of the rare metal, which is crucial for making batteries used in mobile phones and electric vehicles.

Some 600 families were already relocated from Kasulo town last year, with compensation levels ranging widely between $1,500 and $10,000 per household, according to a local watchdog group, Synergie.

Belongs to the State

The cobalt reserves at Kasulo are estimated to be worth $100 billion, Muyej said, adding that prices for the mineral are bound to rise.

Muyej anticipated pushback from residents over the re-location, but said "what is under the ground does not belong to individuals but to the state".

Each of the 10 000 families is made up of around 10 members, he said.

READ US tech giants sued over cobalt mine child labour deaths 

The announcement comes as it emerged that five US tech giants including Apple, Microsoft and Google parent Alphabet have been named in a lawsuit over the death of child labourers in cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The case was lodged Sunday in the name of 14 unidentified relatives of children killed in tunnel collapses, as well others maimed as they worked.

It also lists Dell and Tesla as defendants in the case which was submitted by the International Rights Advocates (IRA) campaign group to a Washington tribunal.

Demand for cobalt is soaring, with world prices tripling in the four years up to 2018. The Democratic Republic of Congo produced two-thirds of the world's cobalt in 2017.

The mining industry has said it wants to adopt standards of good governance to improve working conditions.

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