Lusaka - The Zambian government has seized control of a Chinese-owned coal company due to poor compliance with safety and environmental standards, the mines minister said on Wednesday.
“Collum Coal Mine has had a history of poor safety, health and environmental compliance,” Mines Minister Yamfwa Mukanga said in a statement.
“In view of this, my ministry has with immediate effect cancelled all three small-scale mining licences held by Collum Coal Mine.”
“Government has also taken over the running of the mine and will continue to run them until a suitable investor is found.”
The mine - located in Sinazongwe, 325km south of the capital Lusaka - has in the past few years been embroiled in controversy.
In 2010, two Chinese managers were charged with attempted murder after they allegedly opened fire on a group of protesting miners.
In 2012, workers at the mine killed a Chinese manager in rioting over work conditions.
China has invested more than two billion dollars in Zambia and created 50 000 jobs, with trade between the two reaching $3.4-billion last year, up from $2.9-billion in 2010, Beijing's ambassador to Lusaka Zhou Yuxiao said last year.
But relations between Zambian workers and Chinese businesses have been marked by tension, despite attempts by the Zambian government to remedy the situation.
In October last year, Human Rights Watch raised concern about safety and work conditions at Chinese-owned facilities in the country.
It claimed four Chinese state-owned firms ignored labour protections, demanding up to 18 hours of work a day and flouting health and safety rules.
In addition to safety worries, the mine had not been paying mineral royalties, Mukanga said.
“The company has also failed to meet statutory obligations such as declaration of mineral production and payment of mineral royalties to government,” he said. - Sapa-AFP