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Congo gold mine forces thousands from homes

As many as 15,000 people will have to be rehoused in the Democratic Republic of Congo, when a huge new gold mine starts up.

Mining firm Randgold Resources plans to start digging up Africa's largest undeveloped gold deposit in eastern Congo.

The move will mean some 15,000 people new homes, but the company says the government and the local community back its plan.

This new mine will be as big as any of the gold mines in South Africa, one of the world's biggest gold producers and is thought to contain about 320 tonnes of gold.

The central African country has huge mineral resources worth massive sums of money, but years of fighting over them has left most of its people living in poverty. The fight for control over the mines has been a major force driving the conflict which has raged for at least 16 years.

The war in eastern Congo has killed about three million people between 1998 and 2003, according to figures from the BBC, either as a directly because of the fighting or because of disease and malnutrition. It has been called possibly Africa’s worst emergency in Africa in recent years.

Randgold, the mine company, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange, says it will start running the mine in Kibali, a corner of Congo near the border with Uganda, in the middle of next year. The firm has already has had to build a 112-mile road eastwards to Uganda, to allow it to start the building work.

Kibali is near a patch run by Ugandan rebel group the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), but Randgold says the local police and security forces have made sure that the goldmine can go ahead

"We have been operating here for nine months now,” said Randgold chief executive Mark Bristow. He told the BBC: “This is not connected with the eastern part of the Congo. This area has not had a history of conflict. We don't arm people... The state provides security. There is the police and the army, which is working with the Ugandans against the LRA in an area north of here."

Despite the fact that 15,000 people will have to be moved, to make way for the mine, as well as a Catholic church and a cemetery, Randgold says the community is behind the plan.

Mr Bristow said the villagers lived in "very poor, poor conditions" and would be moved to a new village built by the company.

Hayley attribution