NAIROBI (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo plans to lift a temporary ban on mining in its troubled eastern provinces by the middle of October after attempting to improve regulation of the sector, its mines minister said on Friday.
Speaking on the sidelines of a conference held in Nairobi to design plans to curb illegal mining in the region, Martin Kabwelulu told Reuters he intended to lift the ban in about two weeks from now.
On September 11, the government banned mining in North Kivu, South Kivu and Maniema, areas rich in gold, tin ore cassiterite, and hi-tech mineral coltan in a bid to stop armed groups, government troops and smugglers from profiting from mining.
No major mining companies operate in the three provinces.
"Two weeks from now, we will lift the ban, the date is not yet set but it should be between 15-20 October," Kabwelulu said.
"We have succeeded in implementing the ban, we have stopped some of the illegal mining and put in place measures so that when we re-start we want to be sure that the production is coming from one known source and going to the next stage. We had to improve our control because there was total chaos," he said.
He said a commission to look into mining was being set up, after which the ban would be lifted.
Some 5 million people have been killed in the central African state since the start of a 1998-2003 war, and the government and U.N. forces are struggling to uproot myriad rebel groups still active in the minerals-rich east.
Many of Congo's minerals are dug from unofficial artisanal mines and concerns that the proceeds from their sale support rebel groups responsible for recent massacres and rapes has led to new efforts to clamp down.
Kabwelulu said mining in that part of the country was linked to rebels and some government troops, a fact that has led analysts to say clamping down on the vice could prove difficult.
"Some of the illegal mining is done by various rebel groups and some of it by our own military troops. They have used the money to foment war. Estimates indicate there is a lot of money in illegal mining," Kabwelulu said.
"As the DRC we want to break the link between rebel groups and minerals, because this is a security concern. They sell minerals and they buy arms."
He said the ban covered minerals extraction, processing and marketing in the eastern areas, where most villagers had not seen any financial benefit from the mines, which was something the government also wanted to address during the ban.
New legislation by the United States requiring companies sourcing from Congo and its nine neighbours to prove minerals are conflict-free, has prompted regional meetings to tackle the issue of illegal exploitation and illicit trade in minerals.
The meeting in Nairobi precedes a round-table of presidents to be held in November, bringing together 11 countries in the Great Lakes region to help guarantee that their minerals are "conflict-free" to avoid possible embargoes.
Maxwell Mwale, Zambia's mines minister and chair of the group of countries in the Great Lakes fighting against illegal mining said the activity was a threat to peace in the region.
"Illegal mining is one of the root causes that drive conflict and weakens governments in the region," Mwale said.
The group of countries fighting illegal mining includes Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.