US move to ban ‘conflict minerals’ is backfiring

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A CRACKDOWN on “conflict minerals” in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has pushed trade deeper into the hands of criminals and smugglers, including one former rebel leader, according to the United Nations.

The finding underscores the difficulty faced by both the United States and Congo governments in choking off funding to eastern Congo’s armed bands, believed responsible for thousands of rapes and killings of villagers.

In an effort to pressure Congo’s rebels, the US adopted a law last year requiring the stock exchange to write rules forcing companies to prove minerals they derived from Congo were “conflict free”. But the rules have not been finalised due to opposition from the industry, creating uncertainty that has all but stopped trade with Congo.

“[This] has mainly led to a loss of production and increased criminality,” said Gregory Salter, a consultant for the UN report.

Eight years after the end of a war that killed more than five million people, Congo has struggled to tackle rebel groups and criminal elements in its own armed forces that haunt the densely forested east and enrich themselves on illegal mining.

Congo has some of the world’s largest deposits of tin and coltan.

“This refusal [by international companies] to purchase untagged material left many exporters … bereft of their main, or only customers, and therefore incomes,” the UN report noted.

“[It] appears to have increased the need for fraudulent operators to seek or accept military assistance in their mineral smuggling operations,” the report continued. Former rebel Bosco Ntaganda, now a Congolese general, is implicated in the trafficking from his stronghold in Goma. He is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes.