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Congo lifts mining ban

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Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters

(Read caption) Gold miners form a human chain while digging an open pit at the Chudja mine in the Kilomoto concession near the village of Kobu, 100 km (62 miles) from Bunia in northeastern Congo, Feb. 23, 2009. Civil conflict in Congo has been driven for more than a decade by the violent struggle for control over the country's vast natural resources, including gold, diamonds and timber, most of which is exploited using hard manual labour.

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President Kabila ordered the lift of a six-month ban on mining in the three eastern provinces of Maniema, North Kivu, and South Kivu, effective March 10, a week from today. The Minister of Mines Martin Kabwelulu made the announcement at the conclusion of a conference Tuesday with provincial representatives from the nation’s mining sector.

Kabwelulu claimed the ban allowed the government to “put in place a mineral tracing program that will conform with international standards.” He went on to say that “we’re all called to improve our governance as well as the business climate in the mining sector.” President Kabila unilaterally announced the ban last year on Sept. 9 as a means to break up “mafia groups” that have controlled the mineral trade in the east.

However, the ban has not seemed to accomplish any of these objectives, and both violence and illicit mineral extraction has continued unabated. Essentially the ban allowed the government to use its army, including the problematic ex-CNDP units, to establish greater control over mine sites in the eastern provinces. The government has done nothing to indicate that it has improved traceability. Given the national army's divisions, dysfunctionality, and propensity to smuggling, it would be hard to endorse greater military control of the mines as indicative of an increased governmental ability to trace minerals to the source.

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