Page last updated at 00:05 GMT, Thursday, 13 November 2008

Illegal mining fuels DR Congo war

By James Melik
BBC World Service business reporter

open cast mining in the DR Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the most volatile parts of the world and also one of the most mineral-rich.

That provides an explosive combination.

The United Nations says illegal mining operations are providing funding for the rebel groups behind the renewed conflict, including the forces of the rebel general Laurent Nkunda.

Many people have died in the latest eruption of violence, and over 250,000 people have fled their homes.

Blessing or curse

International efforts to bring peace to the region are increasingly focussed on the way that factions in the region have been using its mineral wealth to buy arms.

The war has become a private racket with minerals providing the motive for carrying on fighting
Carina Tertsakian
Global Witness

Workers toil to extract diamonds, gold, copper and cassiterite in the thousands of open mines which litter the contested eastern region.

The untapped wealth of the forested landscape is worth billions of dollars but only a tiny fraction of that reaches the pockets of ordinary citizens.

The recent battles in the eastern Kivu region partly stem from the same Hutu-Tutsi rivalry which prompted the Rwandan genocide of the 1990s but crucially, the fighting is financed by Kivu's buried treasure.

Many people complain that the natural riches of the region are the main cause of their misery.

Blood money

Rebel groups, as well as the Congolese army, trade in the minerals and that provides the money to enable them to keep fighting.

For some armed groups the war has become little more than a private racket with the minerals themselves providing the motive for carrying on the fighting, according to Carina Tertsakian of the international campaign organisation Global Witness.


Some end-users of tin are unaware of where the product comes from

Harrison Mitchell
Resource Consulting Services

The region accounts for 5% of the global supply of cassiterite, the primary ore of tin and a crucial element of all kinds of electronic circuitry, and is worth $70 million a year.

"To reach the world market the ore is flown to the regional capital of Goma and then, via Rwanda and Uganda, it reaches to east African ports of Mombasa in Kenya and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania," says Harrison Mitchell of the Resource Consulting Services.

The ore is then shipped to smelters who buy tin on the open market.

Located predominantly in India, China, Malaysia and Thailand, these smelters sell tin to component manufacturers.

Provenance required

Public pressure has forced the diamond trade to monitor sources and Mr Mitchell says the same should now apply to the trade in cassiterite.

cut and uncut diamond
There is a system in place to prove the provenance of diamonds

"We talked to some high profile electronic companies and we found that the final end-users of tin were generally unaware of where the product was coming from," he says.

There are many legal mining operations within the Democratic Republic of Congo but in the contested Eastern region, there are now proposals to limit the illegal trade.

These range from calls for a total ban, to the idea of chemically identifying the varieties of tin coming out of each area, which would allow exporters to filter out the worst sources.

Campaigners say that any indiscriminate ban will severely hurt the long-suffering and impoverished local population.

The programme relating to this issue can be heard on the Business Daily podcast dated 11 Nov 08



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