Kinshasa - Employees at Democratic Republic of Congo's state mining firm Gecamines have gone on strike in Kolwezi in the copper-rich southeastern Katanga province to protest over unpaid wages.

Kolwezi is one of three main Gecamines mining hubs in Katanga. The company, which almost went out of business in the 1990s, is involved in a number of joint ventures with foreign mining firms and wants to ramp up its own production to around 100,000 tonnes of copper a year by 2016.

“The workers haven't been paid in three months. They had threatened to call a strike. Now they have run out of patience,” Jean-Claude Baka, Katanga president of ASADHO, a Congolese civil society group that works in the mining sector.

A spokesman for Gecamines confirmed this week's strike but said it would have only a limited impact on the company's mining operations.

“The workers have made their claims, which is normal. The trade union and the Gecamines directors are now trying to find a compromise and a durable solution,” Gecamines spokesman Franck Nkori Bokango told Reuters by telephone.

Congo possesses enormous mineral wealth and has deposits of diamonds, gold, copper, tin and coltan, but decades of mismanagement, corruption and violence mean that the vast majority of its 65 million people live in poverty.