Activities at Semafo mine in Burkina Faso suspended after death toll rises

MONTREAL — Quebec gold producer Semafo has suspended the activities of its Boungou mine in Burkina Faso in the wake of a deadly attack last week as a convoy of its workers travelled on a road leading to the facilities.

While it began transporting people from the site over the weekend, Semafo said Monday that 39 people were now dead, up from an early estimate of 37, after a five-bus convoy escorted by military fell in an ambush last Wednesday.

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A total of 241 employees, contractors and suppliers were in the convey during the attack. At least 60 others were injured, one person was missing, and 141 people were found safe, it said.

"It will take some time to evaluate the new operating environment and to assess how we will be able to operate in a safe and secure manner in Burkina Faso," Semafo said in a statement confirming that the activities of the Boungou mine will remain suspended.

The gold producer's shares continued to plummet, dropping nearly 17 per cent Monday to $2.63 on the Toronto Stock Exchange, down 53 cents from Friday and down $1.30 from Tuesday's close prior to the attack.

Semafo president and CEO, Benoit Desormeaux, and other senior executives have travelled to the African country to "ensure that all those affected receive the support they need."

"Our priority continues to be their safety, security and well being," Desormeaux said in the statement.

Based in Montreal, Semafo, which has 1,200 employees, including 85 expatriates, at its Mana and Boungou sites, had previously faced security challenges in the past on roads leading to its facilities.

It was unclear Monday whether activities were continuing at the Mana mine. Semafo did not respond Monday to questions sent by The Canadian Press. It hasn't commented with the exception of its press releases,

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but the country has seen a significant rise in jihadist violence in recent years.

Mining activities have been targeted by armed men in the past. In August 2018, a Semafo employee and a subcontractor were killed in an attack on a bus carrying workers. A few days earlier, five police officers and one employee were killed in another attack.

Semafo is not the only Canadian company to be the target of attacks in Burkina Faso. In January, Kirk Woodman, who worked for Progress Minerals in Vancouver, was found dead after being kidnapped in that country.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 11, 2019.

Companies in this story: (TSX:SMF)

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