ZAMBIA FUEL CRISIS.
Zambia fuel crisis minister fired. Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa has sacked Energy Minister George Mpombo amid a fuel shortage that has crippled the key copper mining industry. Lack of fuel has also halted public transport and led to the suspension of food supplies in some areas.
Fuel shortages began after technical problems forced the closure last month of Zambia's main oil refinery. The country's largest copper mine says its operations may be suspended if the fuel situation does not improve. Inspection Mr Mwanawasa travelled on Thursday to inspect the Indeni Oil Refinery in the Copper Belt, 300 km north of Lusaka.
The refinery has been closed since last month, and repair work is reportedly behind schedule. During his visit to the Copper Belt, the president announced the energy minister had been sacked from his cabinet seat. "I have removed Honourable Mpombo from his position," Mr Mwanawasa told journalists in Ndola. Konkola Copper Mines (KCM), Zambia's largest copper mining company, says key operations at its mines may be suspended if the fuel situation in the country does not improve.
Among the key areas of operation include a smelter and furnace which process copper ore before it is exported to other countries. The company uses a substantial quantity of diesel in its daily operations and has not had fresh supplies delivered to the company because of the shortage the country is experiencing. KCM is currently rationing fuel at its mines, with operations scaled down to about 50% to keep the mine operational. Other copper mines have equally been affected by the fuel shortage and have also cut back their operations.
The BBC's Musonda Chibamba in Lusaka says Zambia depends heavily on copper mining exports for its foreign exchange earnings, and any problems in the sector could have countrywide effects. The copper mines employ the largest number of workers in the country The companies are concerned that the shortage of diesel also prevent them from transporting miners to their places of work, which would also affect production.
KCM announced that it had sent a delegation to South Africa to try and source the petroleum products it desperately. Government has announced that would allow oil marketing companies to directly import finished products in order to end the crisis, until maintenance works at the Indeni refinery are complete.
REPORT FROM BBC NEWS BYMUSONDA CHIBAMBA IN LUSAKA.