Four multinational mining companies have submitted bids to
reopen the iron ore mines in the Nimba mountains of northern
Liberia, which once provided the government with half its
revenue, Jonathan Mason, the Minister of Lands Mines and
Energies, said on Friday.
A government technical committee would start to review their
offers within the next two weeks and the government would
eventually enter negotiations on a concession agreement with the
preferred bidder, he told reporters at a ceremony to open the
Officials said the government hoped that work on rehabilitating
the Nimba mines and the 280 km railway which connects them with
the deep water port of Buchanan would begin later this year.
They declined to say how much it would cost to reopen the mines
or when iron ore exports were likely to resume.
The mines, which lie close to much larger and still unexploited
iron ore reserves in nearby Guinea, have been closed since 1990,
shortly after Liberia plunged into a 14-year civil war.
The conflict finally ended in August 2003, but it wrecked the
country's economic infrastructure, most of which is now being
rebuilt from scratch.
Mason said the four companies whose bids had been cleared by
Liberia's transitional government were; Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton,
Mittal Steel and Global Infrastructure Holdings.
UK-based Rio Tinto and Australian-based BHP Billiton are two of
the world's biggest mining companies.
Billiton had been negotiating with Liberia to reopen the mines
since 2000, before its merger with BHP.
Mittal Steel, which is privately owned by Indian millionaires
based in London, is one of the world's largest steel producers.
Global Infstructure Holdings is the overseas investment arm of
two privately owned Indian steel companies, Ispat and Essar.
The Liberian minister said: "We will make sure that only the
best proposal is accepted so that our country's rich iron ore
reserves are exploited in such a way that the revenues accrued
will not only benefit the country, but also 25% of the profits
from the ore will be used for developmental purposes of the
existing communities that is the demand of government".
The Liberian-American-Minerals Company was originally given a
70-year concession to mine ore in the Nimba Mountains by the
Liberian government in 1953. Two years later, a Swedish group
joined the consortium and the company was renamed Liberian-
American-Swedish Minerals Company - LAMCO.
LAMCO built the railway to Buchanan and worked the mines for
over 30 years, but the concession was surrendered during the
"We were once the world's largest producer of iron ore and first
in Africa and we still have large reserve of ore deposits",
Before the civil war began in 1989, Liberia relied on iron-ore,
rubber, timber and diamonds exports, but now only the rubber
industry is active. Iron ore alone provided half of all
Exports of diamond and timber are still banned under UN Security
Council sanctions imposed on Liberia between 2001 and 2003 to
deprive former president Charles Taylor of funds to buy arms.
Last July, the government signed an agreement allowing the
Spanish oil company Repsol to explore for offshore oil, but
exploration drilling has yet to commence.
Officials at the Ministry of Land, Mines and Energy told IRIN in
July that exploration studies conducted in Cote d'Ivoire in the
late 1990s concluded there was a strong possibility of oil being
found in nearby Liberian waters.
"The shores of Maryland County were particularly cited in the
Ivorian study that was submitted to former president Charles
Taylor, but no action was taken to attract companies to do
exploration," one official explained.
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the
United Nations ]