The Director-General of the Mauritanian National Industrial and Mining Company, M. Ould Amar, has announced?
The Director-General of the Mauritanian National Industrial and Mining Company, M. Ould Amar, has announced that iron ore exports this year have not fallen, despite the political situation in the chief mining zone near the town of Zouerate. Situated close to the border of the former Spanish Sahara, Zouerate has been the target of Algerian-backed Polisario guerrillas operating in the region. After a raid in May this year several French technicians engaged in the mining industry were abducted: France withdrew many of her technical personnel. Despite this and the constant threat of terrorist attacks the mines apparently are maintaining production levels.
SYNOPSIS: Iron ore mining is the backbone of the Mauritanian economy, and the high grade ores mined around Zouerate contribute to over 30 per cent of the country's Gross Domestic Product. The industry is still expanding at a time when it is faced with severe problems and provides the basis of Mauritania's trade balance.
In the first seven months of 1977, iron ore exports amounted to 5,229 million tonnes (tons) -- a figure that compares favourably to the previous year's. However, the future of the whole industry is threatened by the recent political and territorial dispute connected with the former Spanish Sahara, and the increase in guerrilla attacks deep in Mauritanian territory by the Algerian-backed Polisario Front. The Polisario's claim to the mineral-rich Western Sahara -- which was handed over to Mauritania and Morocco in 1975 by Spain -- has culminated in a series of raids on Zouerate and other industrial targets.
One such target -- the 640 kilometre (400 mile) railway from the open cast mine at Zouerate to the Atlantic port of Nouadhibou -- is being attacked with increasing frequency. It is Mauritania's main economic lifeline, for without it, there is no way the iron ore can reach the ocean and its vulnerability is posing serious problems for the Mauritanian government forces. Iron ore represents over 80 per cent of Mauritania's total exports and its chief buyer is France who takes over a third.
The French have supplied most of the financial and technical backing for the mining industry. However, the aid was withdrawn following the Polisario attack on Zouerate in May in which two French civilians were killed and several abducted. The resultant withdrawal of over 400 French technicians has been a severe blow to the mining industry and has exacerbated fears that exports in the next year could fall.
For the time being export levels are up, and the government have managed to stockpile three months' supply of the ore. But faced with the possibility of more Polisario attacks, and a world crisis presently affecting the iron and steel industry, the country's future seems delicately balanced.