Diplomats at the Chinese embassy in Ghana have visited a group of 41 Chinese nationals who had been detained for allegedly mining gold illegally in a series of crackdowns.
The campaign came amid escalating tensions between foreign miners and local residents in the second largest gold producer in Africa over environmental concerns and fears that an influx of foreign miners may steal local jobs.
The detained people were in good health, a consul surnamed Guo at the embassy told the Global Times. Their identities were not revealed.
Local police claimed that all of the Chinese nationals were arrested for illegal gold mining and didn't have legitimate work visas, residence permits, or mining permits, according to an online statement by the embassy.
Among the detained, 34 were arrested Monday last week within the mining concession of AngloGold Ashanti (AGA) in the Obuasi and Amansie Central areas after local police raided illegal mining sites in the Ashanti Region, the Ghana-based Daily Guide said in an earlier report.
The group was taken to the capital city Accra for processing and investigation, the report said.
Bempong Marfo, the Ashanti regional security liaison officer, told the Ghana-based Daily Guide the crackdowns follow rampant illegal mining activities and were not targeted at any particular foreign country.
Alan Fine, a public affairs manager at AGA, told the Global Times on Sunday that the company was aware of the illegal mining in that concession, and had earlier reported it to the authorities.
"In this particular case, the people had quite large machinery that they were using to carry out the mining, which obviously has a large impact."
He said there are also "a number of local people involved."
Thirty-eight Chinese workers were arrested for illegal gold mining on May 22 and were later released on bail by Ghana police, after AGA reported them, the China National Radio reported.
Ghana produced over 3 million ounces of gold in 2010, the Minerals Commission of Ghana said.
The reserve of gold has reportedly attracted more than 1 million illegal gold miners to Ghana.
"Ghana has seen an increase in illegal Chinese gold miners since 2006," Guo said.
Currently there are between 400 and 500 illegal Chinese miners in southern Ghana, news portal ghanamma.com reported.
Most of the illegal Chinese miners were not employed by any company, but were mining for their own profit and paid rent and part of their earnings to the local tribal chiefs or landlords, Guo said. "Although most of the land is owned by these chiefs, the minerals are owned by the country. The chiefs don't have the rights to mine."
However, many villagers who believe their rights are not being protected are vehemently opposed to illegal mining by foreigners.
A group of Chinese gold miners opened fire to disperse local villagers near Asante Bekwai on July 19, Guo said. There were no casualties but nine Chinese were summoned to assist police investigations, reports said.