April 4, 2015 / 4:08 PM / 2 years ago

Gunmen kidnap Romanian from Burkina Faso mine near Mali border

OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) - Unidentified gunmen kidnapped a Romanian security officer on Saturday from a manganese mining project in northern Burkina Faso, near the border with Mali’s lawless desert north, the company and a security source said.

The incident took place at the Tambao project, which is run by Pan African Minerals, a subsidiary of Frank Timis’s Timis Corporation. Timis is a Romanian-Australian businessman with investments in West African oil and mining operations.

“There was an attack on one of our patrols,” said Souleymane Mihin, Burkina Faso managing director for Pan African Minerals. “They kidnapped the Romanian leading the patrol. The driver was wounded in the foot. A gendarme was seriously injured.”

The Romanian foreign ministry issued a statement confirming the kidnapping of a Romanian in Burkina Faso and said a crisis cell had been set up to handle the case.

A Burkinabe security source said the five gunmen involved in the attack headed towards the nearby border with northern Mali after kidnapping the Romanian.

The incident took place early afternoon and teams had been scrambled in Burkina Faso to search for the man, he said. It was not clear where the gunmen came from.

There was no official comment from the Burkinabe government.

Omega FM, a local radio station in Burkina Faso, reported on its website that the kidnapped man also had French citizenship. The French foreign ministry said it had no information to suggest any French national was involved.

Northern Mali is still awash with Islamist gunmen, separatist rebels and criminal gangs, two years after a French military intervention scattered gunmen from the main towns they occupied and U.N. peacekeepers began deploying.

In the past, kidnapped foreigners have been taken into northern Mali’s desert zones and later exchanged for multi-million dollar ransom payments.

Underscoring insecurity in the zone, unidentified gunmen attacked the town of Boni, about 100 km north of the Burkina Faso border, killing two people, security forces in Mali said.

Mining industry sources said the kidnap in Burkina Faso could be linked to the fact that Pan African Minerals has had strained relations with the local community living around the mine.

Additional reporting by Gus Trompiz in Paris and Radu-Sorin Marinas in Bucharest; Writing and additional reporting by David Lewis; Editing by Stephen Powell

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