- Firestone Diamonds has announced the recovery of the first diamonds at its Liqhobong mine as the project moves into the production ramp-up phase.

The company says that Liqhobong has completed all major construction activities and at the end of September the project was 98% complete and well ahead of schedule.

It says: "The teamwork and cooperation of all staff and contractors has allowed the Project to achieve commissioning well ahead of plan. The commissioning phase was 91% complete at the end of the quarter and we have been able to commence the ramp-up to commercial production. The remaining 2% of the project construction relates to minor construction activities, such as cladding and final non-essential items, which will all be completed before the end of 2016.

Ramp-up production highlights as at 20 October:

- Recovery of first diamonds

* First ore treated through plant as scheduled with diamonds reporting to the sort house

* Initial recoveries are as expected and confirm presence of fancy yellow diamonds

- Commissioning at 96% complete

- First ore blast in the main pit successfully completed

- Waste stripping on target

- Ramp-up to commercial production now commenced

Production guidance for financial year ending June 2017 remains as announced in July 2016, with 1.8 to 2 million tonnes ("Mt") treated and between 380,000 and 450,000 carats recovered. Full production rates expected to take at least six months.

Chief executive Stuart Brown said: "It is extremely exciting to have reached the end of the construction phase and to start the next chapter of the Liqhobong Diamond Mine, as we ramp-up production to become a one million carat per annum producer.

"Discovered in the 1950s this exciting diamond deposit is on the cusp of entering commercial production and I commend the team for completing construction ahead of revised schedule and achieving over three million man hours without a lost time injury - a truly exceptional accomplishment."

Liqhobong is owned 75% by Firestone and 25% by the Government of Lesotho.

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