Canadian native protesters block road to De Beers mine

Wed Feb 13, 2013 9:06pm GMT

Quotes

   

* Protesters blocking access to ice road to Victor mine

* Road key corridor to transport fuel, heavy equipment

* Company says blockade could have impact on operations

* Local community members seek compensation, more benefits

By Julie Gordon

TORONTO, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Native protesters have blocked the winter access road to De Beers' Victor mine in Northern Canada for the second time in less than two weeks, raising concerns over supplying the diamond project before the spring thaw makes the site inaccessible except by air, the company said on Wednesday.

De Beers, a subsidiary of Anglo American Plc, has a window of about 45 days to complete its winter transportation program on the ice road. The company's trucks have so far faced disruptions on eight of 12 days since the program was launched.

De Beers Canada has notified the protesters and the local community of a potential legal action in an effort to regain control of the transport corridor for fuel, machinery and other large supplies, spokesman Tom Ormsby told Reuters.

"We need action at this point to get the road open, that's our priority," said Ormsby. "There will be economic consequences for all involved if we cannot successfully complete this program, and it impacts the operation of the mine."

The most recent barricade was set up on Sunday by a small group of protesters who are demanding the company provide compensation for the loss of traditional trap line territory.

A previous blockade, which ended last week, was rooted in the terms of a 2005 Impact Benefit Agreement between the mine and the nearby community of Attawapiskat.

If the company is unable to ship in all the large items needed for the year, mining operations there could be curtailed, which in 2011 produced some 779,000 carats.

The project is located in remote Northern Ontario, some 90 kilometers (56 miles) from the community of Attawapiskat. The mine employs more than 60 people from the aboriginal reserve and over 100 people from other First Nations communities.

Attawapiskat gained national notoriety last winter after a housing crisis there brought to light the dismal living conditions faced by many of Canada's 1.2 million natives.

First Nations across Canada have launched protests in recent months under the "Idle No More" banner in an effort to raise awareness over squalid living conditions, addiction and other social issues on reserves.

De Beers said it provides financial compensation to the community under the terms of its 2005 deal. It is up to the community to redirect that compensation to its members, including those with trap lines affected by the Victor mine.

"This is a long-term partnership and we have to maintain that," said Ormsby. "But at this particular juncture we have to stress the urgency of successfully and safely completing this program."