Global Policy Forum

UN Spotlights Link Between


By Gerard Aziakou

Agence France Presse
June 25, 2007

At Belgium's initiative, the UN Security Council on Monday turned the spotlight on the link between illegal extraction of natural resources and armed conflict in trouble spots around the world, particularly in Africa. Opening a day-long debate on the issue, Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht said his goal was to generate awareness that "good management of natural resources is important not just for development but also for peace and security." The struggle for control of natural resources such as diamond, oil, timber and other raw materials has been a key factor in civil wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ivory Coast, Sudan's Darfur region and Angola.

De Gucht, whose country chairs the 15-member council this month, said the need for good management of natural resources was particularly true in DRC, a mineral-rich, former Belgian colony in the heart of Africa. There, he noted, "it is essential that the exploitation of its enormous natural resources benefit the entire population to ensure lasting stability and avert a relapse into civil war." DRC holds millions of tonnes of precious minerals, including diamonds, zinc, manganese, uranium, gold, and niobium. It also has the world's largest supply of high-grade copper, is believed to hold 80 percent of the world's reserves of tantalum -- also known as coltan, used in mobile phones, night vision goggles and fiber optics -- and more than 60 percent of the world's cobalt reserves. At its height, the conflict in the former Zaire which raged from 1998 to 2003 drew in seven foreign armies, including those of neighboring Rwanda, Uganda, Angola and Zimbabwe. The war claimed some 2.5 million lives.

De Gucht said he was not suggesting that the international community should interfere in the management of natural resources of those countries. Instead, the aim should be "to reinforce the responsibility of national authorities and avoid that the exploitation of natural resources falls outside state control or is used against it," he added.

UN under secretary general for political affairs Lynn Pascoe pointed to the wealth of knowledge gained about the link between conflict and the illicit extraction of natural resources from the imposition of targeted UN sanctions in Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Sudan and DRC. In those countries, South Africa's UN envoy Dumisani Kumalo highlighted the role of rebel movements "which have developed access (for those extracted resources) to external markets of the developed world." "This makes the role of traders, transport companies, international banks and transnational corporations a critical part of this debate," he noted. "The home governments of those involved in trading with the rebels and smugglers and arms traders must also be held accountable for the actions of their entities abroad."

US Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad for his part said his country "has taken this issue seriously in both multilateral and bilateral venues." He described the "equitable management of resources (as) a key aspect for post-conflict reconstruction" in those countries.

Several of the 34 speakers hailed the example set by the UN-mandated Kimberley Process, which requires participants to certify that shipments of rough diamonds are free from conflict diamonds, also known as "blood diamonds." Trafficking in illegal diamonds is considered one of the root causes of the back-to-back civil wars in Liberia since 1989 as well as of the brutal 10-year conflict in neighboring Sierra Leone that ended in 2001. Under the Kimberley process begun in 2000, rough diamonds are sealed in tamper-resistant containers and required to have forgery-resistant, conflict-free certificates with unique serial numbers each time they cross an international border. More than 70 countries have now signed on to Kimberley and agree to buy and sell only among fellow members. While welcoming the success of the Kimberley initiative, France's UN Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere said it remained "fragile" and dependent on implementation of more rigorous internal controls." He said a debate was currently under way on "extending and adapting the methology to other mineral resources".

More Information on the Security Council
More Articles on Natural Resources in Conflict
More Information on Diamonds in Conflict
More Information on Timber in Conflict


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