|Some rebel groups running illegal mining operations have been accused by the UN of raping 242 women and girls [EPA]|
The president of the Democratic Republic of Congo has ordered a suspension on mining in three provinces during a visit to the eastern Walikale region, where the United Nation says more than 240 women were raped within a month.
Joseph Kabila said authorities want to weed out “a kind of mafia involved in minerals exploitation” that he accused of fueling conflicts.
D’Assise Masika, the mining minister of North Kivu province, which is affected by the ban, said on Friday that the president wants to clean up the sector and create better living conditions for people there.
An official presidential statement would be published in the near future, Masika said.
Rebel groups accused of committing attrocities against local populations in the three provinces – North Kivu, South Kivu and Maniema – also control the lucrative mining activities in the region.
The provinces are rich in cassiterite and coltan, the minerals used to make phones, computers, games consoles and other electronics. They also have some gold reserves.
Among the armed groups running illegal mining operations are the Hutu rebels of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) – considered one of the main sources of instability in the region.
Officers of the DR Congo army and members of other rebel groups have also been accused of exploiting the mines.
Atul Khare, the UN under-secretary general for peacekeeping operations there, blamed the FDLR and its allies, the local Mai Mai militia, earlier in the week for a series of mass rapes between July 30 and August 3.
He also acknowledged that the UN had failed to halt “the unacceptable brutalisation of villages in the area”.
Since war broke out in 1998, the DR Congo had been embroiled in a conflict that has left more than five million people dead – the highest war-related death toll since WWII.
In December 2008, the UN security council passed a resolution calling for a travel ban and asset freeze to be imposed on all individuals and entities supporting illegal armed groups in DR Congo through the illicit trade of natural resources. Another resolution was passed in December 2009.
While in May 2010, the UN adopted a resolution on the security situation in the DR Congo, in which it emphasised “that that the linkage between the illicit exploitation and trade of natural resources and the proliferation and trafficking of arms is among the major factors fuelling and exacerbating conflicts in the Great Lakes region”.
A US financial reform bill passed in July 2010 also requires companies that engage in the trade and use of minerals like coltan to declare in an annual report if they are sourcing their supply chain from the DR Congo, or an adjoining country.