* Kibali remains on track for first production next year
* Operations being developed despite conflict elsewhere in DRC (Adds background)
JOHANNESBURG, July 25 (Reuters) - Randgold Resources said on Wednesday it had started open pit mining at its Kibali gold project in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), underlining the point that operations continue in the troubled nation despite recent fighting in its east.
Randgold also said Kibali remained on track to begin producing its first gold toward the end of 2013.
“The DRC had for years tried to interest the major mining companies in this project but all were daunted by its scale and location,” said Randgold chief executive Mark Bristow.
Congo in general is a daunting place to do business.
More than 200,000 civilians have had to leave their homes and several hundred fighters have been killed in recent clashes in North Kivu province in the country’s restive east.
Randgold’s operations are hundreds of kilometres from there and not even linked by road while the country’s copper belt lies far to the south of the scenes of the recent clashes.
“We are absolutely unaffected. There is a lot of activity in Kivu province but it is sort of the last vestige of warlordism,” Bristow told Reuters earlier this month. (Reporting by Ed Stoddard and London equities newsroom; editing by James Jukwey)