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Colombia Seizes Record Amount of Coltan From Rebel Smugglers

Sept. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Colombia made its largest ever seizure of a mineral used in laptops and phones from guerrillas who have turned to mining to complement financing from the drug trade.

During a raid in the Amazon jungle on Sept. 11, police confiscated about 17 tons of columbite-tantalite, or coltan, from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, said Colonel Hector Paez, a deputy director at a national police unit dealing with rural security. Rebels planned to export the material from an eastern province, he said in an interview in Bogota.

“It shows the growth in illegal mining of this mineral,” Paez said yesterday. “It sustains them, economically.”

President Juan Manuel Santos has ordered an increase in raids on illegal mining operations as rebels and crime gangs take advantage of demand for gold and coltan for revenue after a crackdown on drug production. Colombia has fallen to third from first behind Peru and Bolivia in global cocaine output, Santos said last month.

Three men were arrested in the raid next to a tributary that rebels would have used to transport the mineral from the site in the province of Vaupes. Coltan, contained in rust-colored rock, had been processed at the site into a fine dark gray dust, police reported.

Coltan Exports

Coltan isn’t legally exported now from Colombia, according to Paez. Government plans to auction rights for mineral and metals exploration next year won’t include coltan, according to the mines and energy ministry. Refined coltan has the ability to resist heat and has traded at as much as $182 a pound, according to the United Nations.

Colombia isn’t the only country attempting to stop illegal coltan mining. In February, the Democratic Republic of Congo sought to block purchases of four so-called conflict minerals including coltan from unapproved mines after trade by rebel groups added to more than a decade of violence in the region.

Apple Inc. and Intel Corp. have backed rules to stop sales of coltan and other minerals used in electronics from funding war in Central Africa.

To contact the reporter on this story: Heather Walsh in Bogota at hlwalsh@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Attwood at jattwood3@bloomberg.net

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