Rwanda to Track Tin Exports to Curb ‘Conflict Minerals’ Trade

Rwanda will start tracking the sources of its tin-ore exports in response to international pressure to stop the trade in “conflict minerals” from central Africa, a mining official said.

The Rwandan Geology and Mines Authority, or OGMR, will work with St. Albans, England-based tin industry group ITRI Ltd. to implement the new traceability program for cassiterite, or tin ore, OGMR Director Michael Biryabarema said.

“Consumers are now demanding traceability of where their minerals come from,” Biryabarema said by phone today from the capital, Kigali. “We want to make it very clear to our markets the type of cassiterite we’re sending out.”

Rwanda’s cassiterite trade was worth $37 million in 2008, according to the latest figures from the Rwanda Development Board. The Central African nation exports about 4,000 metric tons of the mineral a year, Biryabarema said.

Some of those exports come from the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, where rebel groups and some members of the Congolese army participate in the illicit trade and taxing of minerals. Congo is Africa’s largest producer of tin, ITRI said on March 19. Illicit trading of tin ore and other minerals has fueled fighting in eastern Congo that has left millions dead since the mid-1990s.

In July, the U.S. passed a law requiring that American companies who buy cassiterite, wolframtie, coltan and gold from Congo and nine adjoining countries must certify that their purchases don’t support armed groups.

‘The Same Fate’

The U.S. Congress gave the Securities and Exchange Commission nine months to create a certification program.

While the U.S. bill will encourage regional economic development “in the long run,” for now it may stop companies buying minerals from central Africa, Biryabarema said.

“Minerals from neighboring countries will be put in the same group as minerals from rebel areas and they’ll suffer the same fate, that’s the worry,” he said.

Rwanda invaded Congo twice in the 1990s and was supporting rebel groups in eastern Congo until 2008, according to the United Nations. Rwanda was also involved in the illegal exploitation of minerals from eastern Congo, according to UN reports. The two countries normalized relations in 2009.

“As relations between the two nations get better and better, the exchange of goods and services would be a way forward and all of us stand to benefit,” Biryabarema said.

Rutongo Mines Ltd., the largest cassiterite miner in Rwanda, will be the first site to implement the tracking project, ITRI said in an e-mailed statement today. Rutongo is a joint venture between the Rwandan government and Switzerland-based Ruddington Services AG.

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