Civil society in the Democratic Republic of Congo urge authorities to clamp down on the illegal exploitation and trade of minerals in eastern Congo, which has been fuelled by the involvement of militias and soldiers alike.
BUKAVU, DRC (REUTERS) -Knee deep in muddy water and digging through dirt, men, women and children carefully look for something that could change their lives.
Here in Bukavu, a city in Democratic of Congo's east, like in the rest of the vast central African country, diamonds, gold, copper, coal and oil are in abundance.
It is the resource curse that has seen the region become synonymous with the trade of illegal minerals, which have fuelled bloodshed and conflict since the arrival of Belgian colonialists over a hundred years ago.
Civil society are urging the government to enforce news laws that can better regulate the mining industry and put an end to the illegal trade of minerals whose sale funds unrest.
In 2010, the Congolese government issued a ban on mining operations in eastern Congo, because of the involvement of the criminal groups and militias in the industry in an attempt to strengthen regulation.
The ban was lifted in March 2011 and some activists welcomed the progress in identifying mining zones that need to be regulated but said working conditions for artisanal miners and the tracking of minerals coming from the region was still poor.
"From the moment the minerals are mined to the moment they are sold, we should be able to trace them, and that is already done in what we have identified as the green zones. The red zones are the zones that we have identified as the ones that cannot be mined. The minerals from the red zones should not be sold or exploited," said DRC's provincial minister for mining, Timothee Masumbuko Kwalya.
Analysts say mining in the east continues to be linked to rebels as well as some government troops.
Some five-million people have been killed in the central African state since the start of a 1998-2003 war, and the government and UN forces are struggling to uproot a myriad of 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 ongoing massacres and rapes has led to a new efforts to clamp down on illegal trade.
Raoul Kitungano Mulundani is a coordinator for the NGO, Justice for all.
"We have asked the government to put in place a socio-economic reintegration program for women and children, who are illegally working on the mine sites. Those are the recommendations we gave to the government. But we have also asked the military authorities to respect the rules and forbid any soldiers to be in the vicinities of the mines and to ban soldiers that are involved in the exploitation on minerals," Mulundani said.
New legislation by the United States requiring companies sourcing minerals to prove they are conflict-free, has prompted regional meetings to tackle the issue.
The U.S. "conflict minerals" bill, which was due to come into force in April last year will require companies to prove that minerals such as tin ore cassiterite, tantalum and coltan, extracted from the Democratic Republic of Congo and its neighbours, are not linked to illegal trade or conflict.
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