Mine workers demanded more protection before deadly Burkina Faso attack

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FILE PHOTO: The sign of Canadian gold miner Semafo is pictured covered in black in memory of the victims of an attack on a road leading to the Boungou mine, operated by the company, at its headquarters in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso November 8, 2019. REUTERS/Anne Mimault/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: The sign of Canadian gold miner Semafo is pictured covered in black in memory of the victims of an attack on a road leading to the Boungou mine, operated by the company, at its headquarters in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso November 8, 2019. REUTERS/Anne Mimault/File Photo

Five months before an ambush killed 39 colleagues, workers at a Canadian-owned gold mine in Burkina Faso pleaded with managers to fly them to the site rather than go by a road that was prone to attacks, two people present at the meeting said.

The employees wanted the same protections as expatriate staff who had been flying to the mine in helicopters since three workers were killed in two earlier attacks in August 2018.

Shortly after those deaths, the mine’s owner, Quebec-based Semafo Inc., said it had added a military escort to bus convoys taken by Burkinabe workers to the site each week.

But local employees of Semafo and its Accra-based contractor African Mining Services (AMS) did not think it was enough in an area notorious for bandits and jihadists.

On Nov. 6, attackers blew up an armoured vehicle escorting the workers’ convoy and opened fire on their buses, killing 39 people and wounding 60 others. It was the worst attack the West African country has seen in years.

The local employees at AMS expressed their fears at a June meeting attended by four miners representing the local workforce, an AMS manager and two AMS human resources representatives, according to two workers who attended.

“I said ‘do you want them to kill us before you take action?’,” said Samuel Kabre, who was at the meeting. “They (AMS management) said locals weren’t the target, but we were the target.”

The second source, who no longer works at the mine, declined to be named.

AMS and its parent company, Australia-based Perenti Global Ltd., did not comment on the meeting, or whether employees’ concerns were relayed to Semafo. Semafo did not have a representative at the meeting, the sources said.

In a statement responding to questions from Reuters, Perenti said that according to its intelligence, military and government personnel were considered the likely target of armed raids, not local workers.

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