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Watchdog Group Says Ending Mineral Plundering Must be Part of DRC Peace Process

A watchdog group says any efforts to bring peace to the eastern DRC must address the "plundering" of natural resources by armed groups. Global Witness says as long as there are buyers willing to trade for tin ore (cassiterite), gold and coltan, there's no incentive for armed groups to stop fighting.

Carina Tertsakian, Global Witness's lead campaigner on the DRC, spoke from London to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about why the mineral trade must be addressed.

"The issue of the resource plunder has been at the heart of this conflict since it first broke out more than 20 years ago now. It has been one of the main factors…that has been motivating the various warring parties. So, all the main armed groups involved in this conflict, as well as the government and the national army, have…been scrambling for the minerals in eastern Congo and have been getting rich with impunity. And none of the international (or) regional peace efforts so far have addressed this question," she says.

As a result, she says the "looting" of these resources continue to be used to finance the fighting. Tertsakian says that there are a number of ways the issue can be introduced into the peace process.

"In the first instance, Global Witness is calling on the various foreign governments (and) international mediators involved in trying to bring peace to start addressing this issue explicitly. In other words, in the context of the peace talks…about the economic agendas of the different parties and to try to find measures to stop the illicit exploitation of the minerals in this area," she says.

Tertsakian says that the "economic actors" must also be addressed.

"Obviously, if these armed groups are trading in minerals that there are people willing to buy them. So, we're appealing to the buyers at every level of the supply chain, that is, from the level of the mine through to the manufacturing and retail companies, to start asking questions about where these minerals are coming from, precisely, whose hands are they passing through. And if there's any likelihood that they are benefiting these armed groups, or army units operating illegally, then simply to refuse to buy them," she says.

She says that the illegal mining of minerals differs somewhat from that of "conflict" or "blood" diamonds.

"I would say maybe it's not quite as clear cut as that. In eastern Congo…there's a multiplicity of different armed groups and different actors involved. There are different armed groups controlling different territory and there's also the army itself that is busy plundering these resources. But then there are also other areas where civilians are doing the mining. So, it is not quite as simple as saying…all minerals that come from Congo are tainted," she says.

In September, Global Witness issued a report, which it said documented the illegal mineral trade being conducted by armed groups, as well as some members of the national army. Tertsakian says that while the government said it would investigate, it also denied any of its personnel were involved.