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Chinese team sets sights on uranium

A TEAM of Chinese scientists has set up camp in Makuti in the Zambezi Valley in what could be the beginning of uranium exploration in the country.

Sources in the Makuti area said an 18-member Chinese delegation with sophisticated

equipment had been booked into Makuti Hotel for the past two weeks.

Hotel owners, Scotlea Holdings, confirmed that they had a Chinese contingent as their guests but could not give details as to their business in the area.

“We can confirm that we have up to 18 Chinese delegates at the hotel,” Scotlea spokesman, Costa Pafitis, said. “We can’t ask delegates what they are up to unless they fail to pay their bills.”

Speculation is rife that the delegation could be prospecting following the discovery of uranium deposits on the Zambezi escarpment.

Contacted for comment, Vicky Fanqi, in charge of the commercial section at the Chinese embassy in Harare, said she would need to check on what the team was doing in Makuti.

“We don’t have the information on what the delegation could be doing,” Fanqi said.

The activities of the Chinese have created a lot of interest among residents in the small service centre located about 300km north-west of Harare on the Chirundu highway.

President Mugabe last year announced that Zimbabwe had uranium reserves which the country wanted to explore.

l Meanwhile, a Russian business delegation from the country’s State Foreign Trade Company, Tyazhpromexport, is in the country to explore business opportunities as government steps up efforts to raise US$2,5 billion announced in its latest economic revival programme.

The 12-member team, which arrived on Wednesday, government sources say, includes industrialists, miners and politicians. The team has held meetings with officials from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Transport and Communications.

The Russian delegation was also expected to meet President Mugabe. The visit to Zimbabwe follows RBZ governor Gideon Gono’s recent 10-day visit to Russia during which he explored the purchase of Russian planes by Air Zimbabwe and the possibility of a loan agreement, sources said yesterday.

The sources said the reciprocal visit by the Russian team this week was an attempt by government to secure investment in mining, transport and the construction industry after slow progress in securing investment from China. Official sources said the issue of a loan agreement was however not on the cards.

The Russian State Foreign Trade Company was scheduled to sign a co-operation agreement and to establish an ad hoc joint group of experts.

Unconfirmed reports also say Russia has expressed interest in participating in platinum exploration and mining in Zimbabwe. The group, sources said, was also being enticed to invest in railway constructions and to undertake capital projects on a Build Operate and Transfer basis. Zimbabwe is also interested in purchasing medium and long haul passenger aircraft from Russia.

Government sources who spoke to the Zimbabwe Independent on Tuesday said the Russian delegation was not only seeking business opportunities but was also assessing the quality of guarantees that Zimbabwe could provide for possible loan agreements.

The visit by the Russian business-people has been kept under wraps by the government which is keen to strike deals before the team’s departure this weekend.

Zimbabwe and Russia have a long history of co-operation although this appeared to have been eclipsed of late by growing relations with China. Zimbabwe has in the
past purchased military equipment from Russia but the latest foray is clearly aimed, sources say, at heading off exclusive Chinese acquisition of untapped resources. — Staff Writer.

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