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Cell Phones And War - 2002-10-17

A new study says, “the world’s insatiable demand for cellular phones and other consumer luxuries is fueling violent conflicts around the world.” The report has been released by the WorldWatch Institute, a Washington DC-based research organization.

The WorldWatch Institute says, “from Columbia to Angola to Afghanistan people are dying every day” because of the growing demands of consumers. For example, It says wars are being fought over the mineral coltan, a key ingredient in the manufacture of electronic equipment, including cell phones.

Michael Renner is the author of the report, entitled: The Anatomy of Resource Wars.” He says, "Cell phones in a way are a very interesting example because on the one hand we think of them as just sort of easily connecting us to our friends and colleagues and so on. But there is this other kind of connection to – particularly to the war in the democratic Republic of the Congo – that most buyers obviously don’t know about. I mean this is not in any way being advertised obviously."

He says much of the “violence in resource-related conflicts is directed at civilians.”

He says, "The kind of violence that has gotten the most attention in the western world is what has happened in Sierra Leone in the 1990’s. For many, many years in that country a rebel group, or perhaps better described as a predatory group, terrorized civilians by hacking off their limbs. Children were made to witness the mutilation of their parents and the other way around. It also had a very severe psychological impact on many communities in that country."

Besides the human toll of these conflicts, the WorldWatch senior researcher says the environment has taken a major blow.

Mr. renner says, "These countries really are crucial to what remains on Earth of the last intact forests. But because of part of the conflict and the impact of the conflict, the fighting that’s going on, the refugee flows – but also the various mining and logging activities that are being carried out this areas suffer tremendously. There are very rapid rates of deforestation - clearly to the extent that if this carries forward for a number of years this is an enormous loss environmentally for the world as a whole."

The report lists some of the estimated revenues from so-called conflict resources. It says in Angola, diamonds generated over four billion dollars for UNITA rebels over nearly a ten-year period. In Sierra Leone, diamonds brought between 25 and 125 million dollars for RUF rebels in the 1990’s. WorldWatch says Rwanda took 250-millon dollars worth of coltan from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rwanda, in the past, has denied it has stripped the DRC of resources.

Mr. Renner says the money can easily fuel armed conflicts.

He says, "If you compare it to what the kinds of weaponry costs that are being used quite heavily in these kinds of conflicts – very often the so-called small arms and light weapons – these are actually quite cheap. So, with that amount of money you can buy an enormous amount of arms. You can also very easily feed into corruption and so on."

The report says wars over natural resources “have revealed the limits of international peacekeeping and conflict resolution efforts.”

The report makes a number of recommendations. They include strong global certification systems for diamonds, timber and other resources to track their origins – and whether they’re being illegally traded. The report also recommends corporate codes of conduct in industries involved in “resource extraction;” reduce the availability of small arms; and “promote democratization, justice and greater respect for human rights.” The WorldWatch Institute proposes helping countries diversify their economies so they are not dependent on a single commodity.