Charges have been quietly dropped against two Chinese managers who were accused of shooting coal miners during a labor dispute, according to Zambian court records.
According to the records seen by reporters in Livingstone on Tuesday, Judge Ernest Mukulwamutiyo dropped the charges and freed the managers Friday after prosecutor Chalwe Mchenga informed the court he was not going to prosecute. Mchenga gave no reason.
The move followed an agreement by Collum Coal Mine in January to pay compensation ranging from 20 million kwacha (about $4,000) and 45 million kwacha (about $9,500), depending on the extent of the injuries to the 13 workers who were shot at the southern Zambia mine.
Rayford Mbulo, president of the Mineworkers Union of Zambia, called the dropping of charges "regrettable."
"It sends a very, very wrong message to investors, that Zambia is a free for all, and you can do anything you want to workers," Mbulo said.
Mbulo said the government was putting its relationship with China, which has invested close to $3 billion in Zambia's economy, above its duty to protect workers.
Xiao Li Shan and Wu Jiu Hua had been charged with attempted murder after allegedly firing on workers protesting during an October wage dispute in the southern African nation.
In the aftermath, the Chinese embassy released a statement calling it "an isolated incident." It said that three Chinese nationals had also been shot and the incident led to "massive equipment damages to the mine property."
At the same time, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu in Beijing said that "Chinese managers mistakenly hurt several local workers."
Canadian, Indian, Chinese and Australian mining companies have invested heavily in mineral-rich Zambia. Union leader Mbulo said relations between management and workers were most tense at the Chinese-owned mines.
In 2005, an explosion at a Chinese-owned copper mine in northern Zambia killed 51 Zambian workers.
Donna Bryson contributed to this report from Johannesburg.