Qatar Mining wins four exploration permits in Mali

Move comes as the IMF forecasts a steady decline in gold output in Mali, Africa's third-largest gold producer

Mali has awarded four mining permits to Qatar Mining, the mines minister said, as the West African country seeks to boost exploration to offset ageing mines.

The International Monetary Fund forecasts a steady decline in gold output in Mali, Africa's third-largest gold producer, from 2015 as existing mines reach maturity.

"Qatar Mining has opened its Mali entity. We will be granting them four mining concessions - greenfield projects - that they will develop in the next few years," Mines Minister Boubou Cisse said in an email to Reuters.

The agreement follows a meeting between Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and a visiting Qatari investment delegation last month.

Officials at state-owned Qatar Mining could not be reached for comment.

Qatar sent relief aid to thousands of displaced people in northern Mali in 2012 after a Tuareg uprising, later hijacked by Islamist fighters, plunged the country into chaos.

A French military intervention last year helped restore order, although both Islamic fighters and armed Tuareg separatists are still present in the desert north.

"This company (Qatar Mining Mali Greenfield) will represent the interests of Qatar in Mali and the region as they say they would like to make Mali their base for West Africa," Lassana Guindo, a mines ministry official, said.

A document outlining Qatar Mining's investments showed that the permits cover four zones named as Tabako, Mininko Nord, Netekoto and Linguekoto, located in the west and south.

It also showed that Qatar Mining planned to take a share in a mining site in Mali that is already operational, without giving further details.

Qatar Mining was established four years ago to invest in mining and metals. It has so far said little about its strategy, although industry sources say it is focused on Africa and is also reviewing a mining opportunity inBurkina Faso.

In 2012, Qatar International, a joint venture by Qatar Steel and Qatar Mining, secured a deal to build, own and operate a $2 billion steel plant in Algeria.

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