* Traceability rules aim to curb conflict minerals
* Slow implementation hurting artisanal miners
* Eastern Congo still a problem
By Jonny Hogg
BUSANGA, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 5 (Reuters) -
Ragged barefoot miners watch bemused as a bag of tin ore
cassiterite is ceremoniously weighed and tagged, ready for its
long journey from Congo's forests for export.
For over a month, about 870 artisanal miners who work by
hand in the muddy, flooded pits of the Busanga mine in the
mineral rich province of Katanga, were forced to down tools.
The forced closure came after top tech firms including RIM
<RIM.TO, Apple and Microsoft decided to push ahead with
traceability rules aimed at breaking the link between mining and
Congo's ongoing conflicts.
The new rules are aimed at curbing the funding of armed
groups, and help end years of fighting in Congo, but many say
they are also hurting poor communities in the process.
Congo supplies around 5 percent of the world's tin and is
among four central African countries that produce 12.5-14
percent of the world's tantalum, used to make components in many
The companies, signatories to the Electronic Industry
Citizenship Coalition (EICC) and Global eSustainability
Initiative (GeSI) standards, agreed to curb the use of
uncertified minerals from the region, the profits from which are
partly used to fuel more conflicts.
A new U.S. legislation, the Dodd-Frank financial reform act
expected later this year will also target the sourcing of
'conflict minerals' such as tantalum, tin and gold.
Malaysia Smelting Corporation (MSC) - one of the top
purchasers of Congo's minerals - announced that from April 1 it
would no longer buy untagged minerals from Congo or Rwanda.
As Congo's planned tagging system, backed by the tin
industry body ITRI, is only now being rolled out, the decision
had meant a de facto embargo on many Congolese minerals, putting
at risk the livelihood of thousands of artisanal miners.
FAMILIES AT RISK
U.S-based development agency PACT says nearly 300,000 miners
and their families - as many as 1.5 million people - have been
affected across Congo's eastern and southern regions as the
industry races to put in place traceability programmes.
"At the moment we are trying to save livelihoods," said
Karen Hayes of the non-profit PACT, which has been charged with
implementing the traceability programme.
Busanga is one of only a handful of mines, all in Katanga
province, to have introduced the new system, which uses plastic
tags and logbooks to trace the minerals back to their source.
The miners said they knew little about the process and its
requirements, nor the purpose, only that they were suddenly
unable to sell their wares.
"We don't know why they stopped (buying), we don't
understand the new system, but it is good we can work again,"
said Jean Umbamutombo, a 24 year, adding that for the last
month, they have barely had enough to eat.
Around half the artisanal miners left Busanga following the
suspension of mining, looking for other ways to make a living in
the minerals-rich country where poverty is rampant.
Umbamutombo - who makes around $30 a month from mining - had
no other work so he stayed. With the tagging launched, miners
are once more digging with shovels, knee-deep in the sand
At the entrance to the mine others sit on large bags of tin
ore, which they have been unable to sell since the suspension.
Busanga is controlled by an Indian owned company MMR, in
partnership with the Congolese state mining arm, Gecamines. The
company has helped fund the tagging process and its mines are
some of the first to be targeted.
Rolling out the programme in other places, where there is no
dominant player such as MMR will be trickier, said Elisabeth
Caesens, a mining governance analyst with the Carter Centre.
"It will be more difficult to implement in areas where the
security situation badly needs traceability, especially the
Kivus," Caesens said.
Katanga has few of the security problems that plague Congo's
troubled east, where the mineral trade is an important source of
cash for armed groups that continue to roam despite the official
end to years of fighting that killed some 5 million people.
Last year the U.N. said the majority of mines in North and
South Kivu were controlled by armed groups.
President Joseph Kabila's decision to ban mining for six
months in the region was meant to tackle the problem but
analysts say Congo's army has simply replaced the rebels.
Even if the nascent traceability programme can be rolled
out, it doesn't go far enough in tackling the problems of
Congo's dysfunctional artisanal mining sector, Caesens added.
"Just putting a tag on a bag doesn't solve all the other
problems, such as living conditions or who gets access to the
minerals and what political and power networks are at play."
PACT's Hayes says due to logistical and financial problems
it remains unclear when the programme will be rolled out in the
east and in the meantime some could attempt to channel 'conflict
minerals' through Katanga's certified mines.
Some $10 million more in funding was needed, she said.
In the meantime, the de facto embargo had removed the only
source of income for many people in the east already living with
the conflict, Hayes said.
"Before they were scrapping a living through mining, now
they can't even do that."
(Editing by Bate Felix and James Jukwey)