April 1, 2009 / 5:28 PM / 10 years ago

Rights group wants Congo 'conflict mineral' tracing

* Group wants minerals for phones, games traced

* Says manufacturers may be financing conflict

* Opponents say will kill industry, hit people



By Joe Bavier

KINSHASA, April 1 (Reuters) - Electronics manufacturers should trace the minerals they use in order to prove they are not funding fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo, campaigners said on Wednesday, but critics said the scheme could do more harm than good.

Congo’s resource-fuelled 1998-2003 war and the humanitarian catastrophe it sparked have killed an estimated 5.4 million people over the past decade, making it the most lethal conflict since World War II.

"None of the big electronics companies want to fuel the deadliest war in the world," said an Enough Project strategy paper by John Prendergast, the U.S. based group’s co-founder.

"But at a time of financial crisis, when every penny of profit counts, corporations may continue to turn a blind eye toward Congo’s conflict mineral trade," it added.

The initiative, which also calls on consumers to demand more transparency in the manufacturing of electronics, comes as lawmakers in the U.S. prepare legislation that would force companies to prove the origins of the minerals they buy.

Congo’s violence centres around the provinces of North and South Kivu, which are rich in tin, tantalum, and tungsten ore, essential components in many household electronic devices.

United Nations experts and resources watchdogs say revenues from exported minerals are used to buy weapons and fund armed groups, including the Congo-based remnants of Hutu militias responsible for neighbouring Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.

However, mineral dealers and experts worry the initiative could make business in Congo uncompetitive, forcing tens of thousands of small-scale miners out of work and into crime.



"DE FACTO EXPORT BAN"

Mining is one of the few remaining economic activities in eastern Congo, where infrastructure is in ruins and about a million people have been forced to flee fighting since late 2006.

Critics argued if the initiative were imposed on Congo, home to just four percent of the world’s tin ore, prices would rise and buyers would merely turn elsewhere.

"This approach would increase the cost of doing business in Congo, resulting in a de facto export ban. This affects the livelihoods of tens of thousands of small-scale miners," a Western diplomat specialising in mineral issues told Reuters.

Congo’s copper, cobalt and diamond industries are already suffering from the impact of the global economic downturn, which has seen dozens of mining companies close up shop and lay off workers amid a drop in world demand for mineral exports.

John Kanyoni, head of a mineral traders’ association in North Kivu, said he encouraged transparency, but feared a cumbersome mineral tracing scheme could kill off the industry.

"Do they want people to stop working in the Kivus too? Do you think that will bring peace? These people in the mines today will just join the armed groups tomorrow," he said. (Editing by David Lewis/Daniel Magnowski)




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