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Mali annual gold production up 5 pct to 49.6 T

BAMAKO, Jan 17 (Reuters) - Industrial gold production in Mali rose to 49.6 tonnes in 2017, up 5 percent from the previous year, a senior Mines Ministry official said on Wednesday.

The figure beat the 46.9 tonnes that Africa’s third-largest producer managed in 2016 and was well ahead a forecast of 45 tonnes that the government had given half way through last year.

“There was real progress in the industrial mines ... a net improvement in performance,” Karim Berthe, deputy director of Mali’s department for mines and geology, said in a statement.

Major investors in Mali’s gold sector include Anglo Gold Ashanti and Randgold Resources. Last year’s output was boosted by the start of production at B2Gold’s giant Fekola project.

Fekola and Hummingbird Resources’ new Yanfolila mine are also expected to hit full production this year.

Industrial mining currently makes up only half of Mali’s gold output, the government estimates, with about 50 tonnes a year produced by artisinal miners. (Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by David Goodman)