GOMA, Congo — Miners in eastern Congo are seeking to go back to work in territory that has been under a mining ban for three years and is blacklisted by U.S. legislation, according to a petition made public Friday.
Their petition, which calls for mines in Walikale territory to be allowed to restart production, was signed by five cooperatives of artisanal miners as well as mine owners, traditional chiefs and other supporters.
The ban was imposed across much of eastern Congo on the grounds that minerals were funding armed groups. It extends to nearly all of the mines over an area many times the size of Walikale.
Congress's 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, which requires American companies trading in Congolese minerals to conduct due diligence checks, has reinforced the ban.
Friday's petition says the security situation in Walikale would allow for the resumption of mining activities, whereas a continuation of the ban "risks having serious effects on security owing to increased youth unemployment."
"Local communities have succeeded in persuading some of our young people to quit the armed groups, but as there is no work in the villages they are often tempted to go back," said Prince Kihangi Kyamwami, a traditional leader in Walikale who helped organize the petition.
Kyanwami said there is no activity by armed groups at three-quarters of the mines in Walikale.
"Buyers can come from China or anywhere. We have a project to build a modern village in Walikale, and any company that is interested in helping us, whether it is Nokia, Motorola or a Chinese company is welcome to a share of our minerals," he said.
The Dodd-Frank Act requires U.S.-listed companies trading in tin, tungsten, tantalum and gold to show their supplies have not come from Congo or else to state what steps they have taken to ensure the minerals did not fund conflict.
United Nations experts report that this clause has scared traders in the international market away from Africa's Great Lakes region. The Congo project manager for the German geological institute BGR, Uwe Naeher, said last year the effects had been "devastating for livelihoods in eastern Congo."
Last month, two Chinese trading houses re-opened in Congo's border city of Goma, offering to export tin ore to Hong Kong, a development that seems to have prompted the Walikale petition.
One of Walikale's mines, Bisie, was at one point believed to account for most of the tin exported from eastern Congo.
But an interim report from the U.N.'s group of experts on Congo published last weekend said traders today are exploiting the fact that minerals cannot be purchased legally in Bisie and are buying tin ore at a low price.
"Smugglers (at Bisie) work with some of the local civil and military authorities," the report said. "They transport the minerals at night in military vehicles to avoid check points."
Kihangi said it would be harder to run this type of smuggling operation if the ban were lifted.
"Senior authorities are profiting from the mining ban," said Kihangi. "If Bisie was open to a large number of miners, they couldn't control the trade the way they do now. They don't care about the tax the province is losing."
Jean Ruyange Njongo, the mining minister for North Kivu province, which is home to Walikale, said authorities are planning to send a validation mission to Bisie and other mines in Walikale with a view to resuming production.