WALIKALE, Democratic Republic of Congo — The Congolese army captured two of the largest minerals mines in eastern Congo last week—the enormous Bisie tin mine and the Omate gold mine. If the objective is to enable conflict-free minerals from Congo to be sold in international markets, the Congolese government should ensure that the army hands these mines over to the mining police as soon as possible. The army and the United Nations peacekeeping force, MONUSCO, should then deploy at a perimeter around the mines to protect from armed incursions. Without these steps, the demilitarization of mines that occurred in 2011 would take a step backwards.
The rebel groups Mayi-Mayi Sheka and the FDLR had been controlling the trade from these two mines in recent months, after the army had vacated them in early 2011. Following Congolese government decrees and international pressure not to purchase conflict minerals, Bisie mine, which accounts for around 70 percent of North Kivu's tin production, is currently only operating at between 10 to 25 percent of normal production. The rebel groups had been controlling the minimal production that was occurring at the mine and likely selling to Chinese buyers at about one-third of the normal price. So they had been making significantly less money.
The government, with MONUSCO backing, started to demilitarize several mines in eastern Congo last year as part of a multi-step reform to clean up the minerals trade. The model was to train Congolese mining police and deploy them directly at mines, in place of the army. Then the army and U.N. forces would deploy at a perimeter around the mines. So far, 200 new mining police have been hired and trained by the U.N. and the International Organization for Migration, making a total of 300 mining police for North Kivu province. Over the past week, Congolese civil society groups and mining cooperatives in Goma and Walikale have publicly called for the mining police to be deployed at the mines, in order to ensure civilian control over the minerals trade, not military control.
Mining police officials informed Enough that they were still waiting to hear from the military on when they could re-deploy to Bisie and Omate after the army’s recent takeover.
"The mining police should be deployed at the mines,” said Sadok Kitsa, the head of the regional association of minerals dealers ANEMNKI, explaining that now that the mine is out of the hands of Mayi-Mayi Sheka, and that the mining police should deploy to the mine and the army should form a perimeter several kilometers away.
“This should enable traceability,” Kitsa said. “Dodd-Frank came to help us to implement a traceability system, and this system will get the armed groups out of the mines."
Photo: Plane being loaded with minerals in Walikale (Enough / Laura Heaton)