London—Gemfields said a mob overran its emerald mining operations in Ethiopia, forcing the evacuation of all employees.

According to a statement from the colored gemstone mining company, on June 29, between 300 and 500 people entered the mining site of Web Gemstone Mining plc, an Ethiopian company in which Gemfields holds a 75 percent interest. (The remaining 25 percent belongs to 50 individuals, either individually or through a mining cooperative comprised of local villagers, many of whom are from the nearby village of Web.)

Gemfields said that WGM’s employees, contractors and service providers were safely evacuated to a town about two hours away by road. Two people suffered minor injuries but are expected to make full recoveries.

The company said local authorities secured WGM’s residential camp and mine offices as well as the camp used by its contractors. It told National Jeweler that to its knowledge, no arrests have been made yet.

Since Gemfields itself does not have any employees, contractors or service providers on site currently, WGM is the one working with local and national authorities regarding the incident.

But a Gemfields spokesperson told National Jeweler: “The safety and well-being of our employees, contractors and service providers is of paramount importance to Gemfields, so we will continue to monitor the site and continue liaison with authorities to best inform subsequent steps.”

Gemfields said the motive of the mob remains unclear but added that it’s believed they may have been “spurred by a faction seeking a portion of WGM’s license.”

The news comes not long after Ethiopia’s latest state of emergency was lifted.

The state of emergency originally was instated in October 2016 following months of anti-government protests in the country and then was reinstated in February after the unexpected resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. It was lifted again on June 5.

Gemfields acquired its stake in WGM in February 2015.

WGM’s emerald exploration license includes an area that measures 200 square kilometers, or about 77 square miles.

It first established its operations on the site in June 2015 and has been conducting exploration and core-drilling since, with bulk-sampling operations beginning in August of last year.

|Subscribe >
National Jeweler

Fine Jewelry Industry News

Since 1906, National Jeweler has been the must-read news source for smart jewelry professionals--jewelry retailers, designers, buyers, manufacturers, and suppliers. From market analysis to emerging jewelry trends, we cover the important industry topics vital to the everyday success of jewelry professionals worldwide. National Jeweler delivers the most urgent jewelry news necessary for running your day-to-day jewelry business here, and via our daily e-newsletter, website and other specialty publications, such as "The State of the Majors." National Jeweler is published by Jewelers of America, the leading nonprofit jewelry association in the United States.