October 25, 2010 / 10:50 AM / 9 years ago

Congo delays reopening eastern mining sector

A general view of the Gecamines copper mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo's southern mining town of Lubumbashi, in this file picture. David Lewis FOR/YH

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo will delay reopening the mining sector in its troubled eastern provinces by “probably” two weeks due to security problems, the nation’s top mining official said on Monday.

Some 80 percent of Congo’s tin comes from the region, where both rebel groups and government soldiers are jostling for control over lucrative illicit artisanal mining operations, according to evidence from the U.N. and other sources.

“I would not like to risk to give any date any more, but I do think that the situation is coming back to normal. Probably in two weeks’ time we may decide to reopen mining activities,” Mines Minister Martin Kabwelulu told investors at the opening of an infrastructure conference in Kinshasa.

Congo suspended mining operations in North Kivu, South Kivu and Maniema provinces in September in a move aimed at choking off funding to illegal networks fuelling the region’s violence.

But the move was widely seen as unenforceable and hurtful to local populations, and the government subsequently said it would lift the ban between October 15 and October 20.

John Kanyoni, head of the North Kivu exporters association, told the conference minerals stocks worth more than $30 million had accumulated in North and South Kivu alone since the ban was put in place.

Since the ban, some factions of Congo’s army have taken up artisanal mining operations — leaving their posts to enrich themselves in the same way as the rebels they are fighting, according to U.N. documents and sources.

Some 5 million people are estimated to have died in the central African state during a 1998-2003 war and the government and U.N. forces have been struggling to uproot myriad rebel groups still active in the east.

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