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DRC: Two groups critical of coltan mining in the east

NAIROBI, 16 January 2002 (IRIN) - Two civil society organisations have criticised the mining and trade of coltan in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Heritiers de la Justice, a Congolese human rights organisation, issued a statement from Bukavu on Monday, warning of serious health risks for women and babies involved in the exploitation of coltan in South Kivu Province. According to Heritiers, increasing numbers of women involved in the manual pounding of stone to extract coltan are reporting chest pain and respiratory problems.

"More worrying, the majority of the babies, often on the backs of their mothers during the horrendous task of pounding coltan, have started showing similar signs of disease and pain to those of their mothers," the NGO reported.

Pole Institute, a research institute based in Goma, released a report on Wednesday entitled "The Coltan Phenomenon: How a rare mineral has changed the life of the population of war-torn North Kivu Province". While acknowledging that the mining and export of coltan offers potential benefits to the local population, the report urges that these activities take place in a "fairer and less harmful way" if the Congolese population is to benefit.

The study reports the emergence of a "mafia economy organised around the rebel armies and their allies and the armed Mayi-Mayi groups", warning that "no demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration [of combatants] programme can succeed without taking economic security into account".

It also cautions that with agricultural and pastoral activities being abandoned in favour of coltan exploitation, there is "a real danger of food insecurity". To address this, it recommends that coltan earnings be used to promote agriculture and to rebuild infrastructure in the region.

The report rejects calls for an international boycott or moratorium of coltan purchases from the Congo, stating that "the people of the Kivus would not gain, but would lose one of their very few remaining sources of income".

The study can be found at www.pole-institute.org

On Monday, the International Peace Information Service (IPIS) in Belgium presented a study reporting that European companies trading coltan in the Congo contribute to the financing of the country's war.

"Some of these companies have played an important part in the continuation of the war by cooperating directly with the rebels or their Rwandan allies. Others indirectly financed the war through the taxes they paid to the warring factions," Jeroen Cuvelier of IPIS said.

In contrast to the Pole Institute report, a key IPIS recommendation is the imposition of a temporary embargo on coltan and other natural resources originating from occupied Congo and countries involved in the war. According to the IPIS report, such a measure should allow the UN, the European Union and national governments to investigate companies and nationals involved in the coltan trade, and to take steps to prevent this trade from contributing directly or indirectly to the financing of the war in Congo.

The complete report, in English, can be found at
www.broederlijkdelen.be/publicaties/coltan14-1.doc

A French translation of the executive summary and recommendations can be found at www.broederlijkdelen.be/publicaties/coltan14-1_fr.doc

Meanwhile, dispatches reaching IRIN from Goma on Wednesday reported that at least 30 people were killed last week in the Karuba area of Masisi District, 60 km southwest of Goma, when the Bibamana coltan mine collapsed during a landslide caused by heavy rains. The Rwandan-backed Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie armed opposition movement controls the region. Rebel-controlled RTNC radio in Goma reported that more than 1,000 people had been left homeless by the landslide.

Theme (s): Economy, Human Rights,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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