Congo's riches fuel its war
A 12-vehicle United Nations aid convoy went behind rebel lines Monday.
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The crisis – funded by the world's insatiable need for mineral resources – is not an easy conundrum to solve. US sanctions forbid high-tech companies from buying Congolese coltan, for instance, but sanctions don't affect coltan purchased in neighboring Rwanda. Rwanda is not a coltan-producing country, so its coltan mainly comes from Congo, illegally.Skip to next paragraph
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More targeted sanctions, proposed by the UN in a 2002 report, aimed at the armed groups themselves, are similarly problematic, government officials and private traders say.
"How can I tell who is legitimate?" asks Mark Patzelt, an exporter of minerals, based in Goma. "When it gets to me it's changed hands so many times, and the trader will tell me anything I want to hear, that he bought from legitimate sources. I've never seen a list of people I'm not supposed to buy from. I could cut out a complete region, but no one has told me where.
"Until the Congo government wakes up and starts paying people [especially government employees a decent wage, to remove the incentive in illegal mineral trading] – it will be impossible to separate the black sheep from the white."
Mr. Patzelt may have difficulty distinguishing where his minerals come from, but even individual traders like Olivier Mugaruka and Bashi Makala – who drive out to mining villages and buy directly from the miners – say it is difficult to tell who is a member of the FDLR.
Traders such as himself and Mr. Mugaruka say they rarely go into FDLR areas because of the risk, but when they do, they bring items such as salt and flour and cooking wares to sell in FDLR-controlled villages.
They pay a "tax" to the FDLR for the right to trade in FDLR areas, and they carry the constant fear that they might simply be looted of all their goods, including the minerals they have purchased to bring back to Bukavu.
"You have to understand that when the FDLR loot, they become wealthy, and the people who are looted become poorer," says Mr. Mugaruka. "We have no choice [but to trade in rebel-controlled areas]. It is up to the international community if they want to push them out."
A mining village caught in the middle
At the end of a drenching afternoon rainstorm, the miners in the tiny village of Luntukulu head back down into the flooded holes in the ground, scraping out chunks of casiterite, a kind of tin.
It's dangerous work – earning them about $30 a week – and risky not only because these holes in the ground have a tendency of collapsing. It's dangerous, too, because of the presence of armed groups who control the mining trade in North and South Kivu, and who keep the region one of the poorest, most war-torn spots on earth.
As the afternoon sun comes out, villagers point to the nearby village of Kakayi, just three kilometers away, an area under control of the FDLR. The Rwandan rebels used to raid Luntukulu, villagers say, but stopped after a short offensive by local Congolese Army commanders brought a truce in 2006.
Now, the FDLR are allowed to control the trade in minerals in Kakayi, and Congolese Army troops take a 500-franc- ($1)-per-person monthly fee to provide security to the miners in Luntukulu.
"The soldiers look after our security," says one of the miners, nervously eyeing the local Army checkpoint, where Congolese soldiers are becoming drunk on beer. Asked if the security fee is official, the miner shrugs. "It is abnormal to have money in hand, and the soldiers have nothing. That is why we give."