Congo army reclaims two mines from rebel groups

Congolese civil society and mining associations say these mines should now be guarded by specially trained mining police to better guarantee the end of conflict minerals.

•  A version of this post appeared on the blog "Enough Said." The views expressed are the author's own.

  The Congolese army captured two of the largest minerals mines from rebel groups in eastern Congo last week—the enormous Bisie tin mine and the Omate gold mine. If the objective is to enable conflict-free minerals from Congo to be sold in international markets, the Congolese government should ensure that the army hands these mines over to the mining police as soon as possible. The army and the United Nations peacekeeping force, MONUSCO,could  then deploy around the perimeter of the mines to protect from armed incursions. Without these steps, the demilitarization of mines that occurred in 2011 could lose important ground.

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The Congolese army vacated these two mines in early 2011, and the rebel groups Mayi-Mayi Sheka and the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) have been controlling the trade from these locations in recent months. Following Congolese government decrees and international pressure not to purchase conflict minerals, Bisie mine, which accounts for nearly 70 percent of North Kivu's tin production, is currently only operating at between 10 to 25 percent of normal production. The rebel groups were controlling the minimal production, and are believed to have been selling to Chinese buyers at about one-third the normal price.

The government, with MONUSCO backing, started to demilitarize several mines in eastern Congo last year as part of a multi-step reform program aimed at cleaning up the minerals trade.  The model was to train Congolese mining police and deploy them directly to the mines, in place of the army. Then the army and UN forces would deploy at a perimeter around the mines. So far, 200 new mining police have been hired and trained by the UN and the International Organization for Migration, creating a total of 300 mining police in North Kivu province. Over the past week, Congolese civil society groups and mining cooperatives in Goma and Walikale have publicly called for the mining police to deploy to the mines, in order to ensure civilian control over the minerals trade, not military control.

Mining police officials informed Enough that they were still waiting to hear from the military on when they could re-deploy to Bisie and Omate after the army’s recent takeover.

"The mining police should be deployed at the mines,” said Sadok Kitsa, the head of the regional association of minerals dealers ANEMNKI, explaining that now that the mine is out of the hands of Mayi-Mayi Sheka, it is a good time to put the multi-tiered deployment into place.

“This should enable traceability,” Kitsa said. “Dodd-Frank came to help us to implement a traceability system, and this system will get the armed groups out of the mines."

– Sasha Lezhnev blogs for the Enough Project at Enough Said.

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