Miner's tale tracks rebirth of Burkina gold mining

Mon Apr 6, 2009 10:25am EDT
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By Katrina Manson

TAPARKO, Burkina Faso (Reuters Life!) - When Omar Ouattara made his first gold bar in eight years, it was more than a precious metal that poured out in the red-hot room, hemmed in by security chiefs as steely as the locks on the door.

"It was an outpouring of pride, because it's the only job I can do with passion, it's the only job I love and that I've done all my career," he said.

Dressed head to toe in a silver outfit to protect him from the heat of molten gold, he looks more like an astronaut than a man who plumbs the depths beneath the earth.

Burkina Faso's sole state-run gold mine closed in 1999, and Ouattara got by in the cosmetics trade and by doing odd jobs.

Only when the country's first foreign-owned mine set up after the government revised its mining codes in 2003 to attract foreign investors with a series of tax breaks did Ouattara find himself back in the hot seat he loves.

Deep in the dusty northeast of the country, the Taparko mine run by Canadian-listed, Russian-controlled High River Gold is the first of four gold mines that have begun operating in the hot landlocked country in the past two years.

Together they produced 5.5 tons in 2008 and they are heading for more than that this year. The government takes a 10 percent free stake in each mine.

"It means currency for the country and at the same time helps to avoid unemployment -- and more than that, when one person works, almost all the family benefits," said Ouattara, 46, one of 403 Burkinabe employees at the mine 200 km (125 miles) from the capital Ouagadougou.   Continued...

<p>Gold pours from a crucible at the Taparko gold mine site in northern Burkina Faso, March 12, 2009. REUTERS/Katrina Manson</p>