PAN, November 27, 2013

Ministry accused of aiding chromite smuggling

He said the smuggling had long been ongoing, but the Mines Ministry recently facilitated it by authorising three companies to collect chromite unlawfully extracted by locals

By Abdul Maqsud Azizi

The Ministry of Mines and Petroleum has intentionally paved the ground for illegal mining and smuggling of chromite in central Logar province, officials alleged on Wednesday.

Chromite is an industrially important mineral for the production of metallic chromium, used as an alloying ingredient in stainless and tool steels, as well as a refractory material, because it has high heat stability.

Deputy Governor Mohammad Hashim Faizi told Pajhwok Afghan News a significant amount of chromite was illegally excavated in Logar and smuggled to Pakistan via southeastern Paktia province.

He said the smuggling had long been ongoing, but the Mines Ministry recently facilitated it by authorising three companies to collect chromite unlawfully extracted by locals.

After collecting the extracted chromites, the firms had themselves started digging chromites in Mohammad Agha and Pul-i-Alam districts, the deputy governor claimed.

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He named the firms as Rahman Baba, Sheikh Sakhi Kamran and Khalid Ayaz companies, which he said had started smuggling the riches.

However, Faizi said they had stopped the companies from operating in the minefields, but they continued to snuggle chromites by showing security officials the ministry’s permit.

The deputy governor showed a copy of the contract which had been signed between the three firms and the mines ministry, but refused to hand over it to this scribe.

The mines ministry has prepared lists of companies legally and illegally mining chromites in the country, but the three companies are not on the lists.

Logar mines director Ajmal Sahak confirmed a number of groups were in involved in illegal extractions and smuggling of chromites in Pul-i-Alam and Mohammad Agha districts.

He said the issue had been discussed with the provincial authorities and police headquarters.

He said the mines were located in insecure areas and security forces were required to prevent unauthorised individuals from illegally excavating the deposits.

Mohammad Agha district chief Haji Abdul Hameed Hamid said local residents had been involved in digging and smuggling chromites in the district.

He said illegal mining of chromites had been controlled to some extent, but people involved had been able to unearth precious stones deposits elsewhere in the mountains.

Haji Kabir, a resident of Daudkhel village on the outskirts of Pul-i-Alam, said there were two chromite sites in the base of a mountain in their village, where illegal mining and smuggling had been taking place since long.

A Mohammad Agha resident, who did not want to be named, said individuals having links with powerful mafias were involved in chromites smuggling.

He alleged government officials and police allowed trucks loaded with chromites to proceed in return for heavy bribes.

Provincial council chief Dr Abdul Wali also confirmed chromites were being mined illegally, saying militants provided security for smugglers in return for money.

“Trucks are allowed to pass check posts and take chromites to Pakistan by police against bribes,” he said.

Provincial council member Abdul Khaliq Khairkhwah said the riches were illegally smuggled into neighbouring countries.

“If the government wants to create job opportunities and improve the country’s economy, it should prevent smugglers and award contracts to companies through an open and legal competition”, he said.

No one would be allowed to extract chromites illegally, he said, claiming three trucks carrying chromites were confiscated some days back.

Mines and Petroleum Ministry’s spokesman Mohammad Rafi Rafique Siddiqui a delegation would be sent to Logar to discuss with local official illegal extraction of chromites.

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