Rights Group: Companies Fuel Congo Conflict

International companies are fueling the conflict in eastern Congo by not checking the origins of the minerals they buy, a human rights group said.

Some companies that source minerals in electronics such as
mobile phones and computers purchase the materials from traders who
work with rebels and soldiers who exploit civilians in the
Democratic Republic of Congo, Global Witness said in its report
relased Tuesday.

"All the warring parties in the DRC are systematically using
forced labor and violent extortion in mining areas," said Patrick
Alley, director of the group, which focuses on natural
resources-related conflicts.

The group called on companies trading in minerals from Congo to
make sure they aren't funding rebels and called on governments to
cut off rebel access to mines and international trade networks.

The report specifically names the Thailand Smelting and Refining
Corp. (Thaisarco), the world fifth largest tin-producing company,
owned by British metals giant Amalgamated Metal Corp., British
company Afrimex, and several Belgian companies, including Trademet
and Traxys.

Global Witness also said that governments, including the United
Kingdon and Belgium, are undermining their own development
assistance and diplomatic efforts to end the 12-year conflict by
failing to crack down on companies based within their borders.

The conflict in eastern Congo has been fueled by festering
ethnic hatred left over from the 1994 slaughter of a half-million
Tutsis in Rwanda, and Congo's 1996-2002 civil wars, which drew
neighboring countries in a rush to plunder Congo's mineral wealth.

"Many mining areas in eastern DRC are controlled by rebels and
the national army, who violently exploit civilians to retain access
to valuable minerals, including cassiterite (tin ore), coltan and
gold," the 110-page report said.

Cassiterite and coltan are used to make mobile phones, computers
and other electronics.

AMC denied the claims by Global Witness, saying it followed
guidance on trade in the region set by the United Nations. The
company said it has been taking part in an initiative since July 1
to trace the source of tin minerals from the Democratic Republic of
Congo.

"Both AMC and Thaisarco have always sought to comply with the
requirements and recommendations of the U.N. in respect of minerals
originating in the DRC," the statement said.

The industry-wide measures were launched in July, after the
Global Witness report was completed, calling for more transparency
of the mineral supply chain.

"If the U.N. were to decide that a withdrawal from the trade is
the most appropriate way forward, then Thaisarco would comply
absolutely with their requirements," the statement said. The
company argued, however, that withdrawing would devastate local
workers economically.

Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende said officials are
committed to fighting against corruption and that a commission has
been set up to investigate.


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