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Gabon Still Seeks Partner to Exploit Rich Belinga Deposit

Gabon is still looking for a partner to help the West African nation develop the Belinga iron-ore deposit, after ending an agreement with a Chinese company in December, according to Minister of Mines Regis Immongault.

“The new ambition of President Ali Bongo Ondimba is to develop the mining sector,” Immongault told reporters today in Libreville, the capital. The National Agency for Major Works is starting to select a port to export Belinga’s ore, he said.

Gabon said in December it would reimburse about $36 million to China Machinery Engineering Corp. after canceling an agreement with the Beijing-based company to develop Belinga over a lack of progress. China Machinery had estimated the project could produce 30 million metric tons of the steelmaking raw material each year.

China Machinery said in 2009 that it had signed a 25-year contract to build and operate the mine, near Gabon’s northeastern border with the Republic of Congo. As part of the accord, the company said it would build a 500-kilometer (310-mile) railway, a port and a hydropower station.

In early 2012, Gabon said it was close to handing the project to BHP Billiton Ltd. for development. Gabon state media reported in March that the Melbourne-based company was set to halt operations in the country.

Development of Belinga has previously been opposed by environmentalists because the deposit lies within Gabon’s Ivindo National Park, a rain forest that is home to elephants, western lowland gorillas and chimpanzees.

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