AUSTRALIAN mining contractor Perenti Global says helicopters are being used to evacuate its local workers from a West African goldmine following a deadly militia attack that killed dozens.
Perth-based Perenti, formerly known as Ausdrill, on Monday confirmed that the toll to the company’s workforce from last week’s ambush in Burkina Faso still stood at 19 dead and 26 injured.
Perenti said it was doing everything possible to ensure the injured received the best possible care, with counselling services established for families and employees.
“The evacuation process is underway for all staff remaining at the Boungou mine site via helicopter,” Perenti said in a statement to the ASX.
“Perenti’s objective is to reunite them with their friends and families as soon as possible.”
A Perenti spokesman called the airlift a “significant operation” involving military helicopters that would likely take a few days.
Chief executive Mark Norwell said the tragedy was difficult to comprehend.
“These are hard working innocent people simply trying to provide a livelihood for their families,” Mr Norwell said.
The workers were local employees of Perenti’s African Mining Services subsidiary, taking part in a convoy of five buses heading to Canadian-based miner Semafo’s Boungou mine site.
Survivors of the attack told Reuters over the weekend that a security vehicle escorting the convoy first hit a landmine, and then gunmen laying in wait opened fire on the buses.
Two buses were able to escape but the militants raked the other three buses with bullets for half an hour while shouting “Allahu Akbar,” they told Reuters.
Panicked workers tried to flee the buses during the attack, then desperately scrambled back onboard away from gunmen in the bush, survivor Bakary Sanou was quoted as saying.
“People were trying to go back into the buses. I tried to run away into the bush, and saw that they (the attackers) went back onto the buses, opened the doors and tried to kill everyone,” Mr Sanou told Reuters from his hospital bed.
Another survivor, who works for Perenti, said his “last prayers” as the gunmen came aboard to execute survivors after shooting at the bus for an hour.
“I pretended I was dead – that was all I could do,” he said.
He said on Saturday that neither Semafo nor Perenti had contacted him since the attack.
The Perenti spokesman on Monday said it had taken time to locate the scattered survivors but they had now all been found and were being supported.
The official death toll stands at 38, with 60 wounded, but survivors reportedly claimed seeing many more dead bodies.
No one has claimed responsibility but a spreading Islamist insurgency and militants from neighbouring Mali have terrorised the once-peaceful country since 2015.
Operations at the Boungou mine site remains suspended.
ASX-listed Mako Gold, which is working to advance a gold project 50km from Burkina Faso’s capital of Ouagadougou, said its workers were all safe and were not in the vicinity of the attack.