By Brecken Branstrator
London—Gemfields said its Ethiopian emerald exploration site, which was overrun by a mob in June, has now been looted.

On June 29, a mob of 300 to 500 entered the mining site of Web Gemstone Mining plc, an Ethiopian company in which Gemfields holds a 75 percent interest.

Though WGM employees were safely evacuated, the trespassers never left the property, and Gemfields said on July 31, they broke into the gemstone sort house, which was constructed using 40-foot shipping containers.

Several of the perpetrators were injured but no WGM employees were on-site at the time.  

The safe in the sort house was ransacked and the emeralds in it looted. A Gemfields spokesperson said the company is providing no further details on the stolen goods.

The equipment and instruments in the facility also were taken, and WGM’s residential camp was ransacked.

While police stationed at the mine tried to resist the activity, they were “overwhelmed” by the group, Gemfields said, and abandoned the site.

Gemfields also said it has been advised that the site has seen a significant inflow of firearm-bearing illegal miners and handlers.

WGM will continue to work with local and national authorities on the situation.

At the time of the first incident, Gemfields said it is believed the members of the mob might have been spurred by a faction seeking a portion of WGM’s emerald exploration license. The invasion and subsequent looting also come at a time of nationwide unrest in the African country.

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 operations in June 2015 and has been conducting exploration and core-drilling since, with bulk-sampling operations beginning in August 2017.

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