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Zambia mines minister takes aim at Konkola liquidation

09/20/2021 | 02:04pm EDT

LUSAKA (Reuters) -Zambia's mines minister on Monday criticised the previous administration's push to liquidate Vedanta's Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) unit, which sparked years of wrangling.

Vedanta and the government have been in a legal dispute over the mine and smelter since May 2019 when Zambia, which owns 20% of KCM through state mining investment firm ZCCM-IH, handed control of the business to a liquidator.

Paul Kabuswe made the comments during a tour of Zambia's copperbelt, in a further indication that President Hichilema's new administration will seek to roll back state involvement in the mining sector, the engine of Zambia's economy.

"We must never, ever, bring politics in(to) the private sector," Kabuswe told a meeting at KCM, which circulated on video on social media and was verified by the mines ministry.

"Part of the mess that we are in is because of that liquidation process," he added.

State-appointed provisional liquidator Milingo Lungu split KCM into two units, KCM SmelterCo Limited and Konkola Mineral Resources Limited, which he was looking to sell.

But any potential buyers were wary of legal complications, with Vedanta calling the split illegal, and arbitration between Vedanta and Zambia ongoing in London.

Kabuswe said he was disappointed Lungu was not at the meeting at KCM.

Lungu told Reuters he had not received any official communication of a meeting taking place on Monday.

Vedanta earlier this month said it wanted to open a dialogue with ZCCM and was committed to investing $1.5 billion into KCM.

Sunil Duggal, Group CEO of Vedanta said "we are keen to resolve the current situation at KCM, and work alongside ZCCM, the government and all stakeholders to help build the mine back into one of the world's leading copper producers."

(Reporting by Chris Mfula in Lusaka; Additional reporting by Helen Reid in Johannesburg; Writing by Helen Reid; Editing by Jan Harvey and Alexander Smith)

ę Reuters 2021
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