A violent attack on Société Minière de Bisunzu’s (SMB) coltan mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo has killed three and injured another three workers, amid an increase of attacks to mining operations in the country’s mineral-rich eastern region.
It remains unclear what happened at the mine, as the company and unions gave different accounts.
SMB reported a grenade attack followed by gunfire. Workers claim the three victims were shot dead by security forces.
Earlier this month, the United Nations published a report showing that at least 1.1 tonnes of gold mined in the DRC has been smuggled out in the past year into countries along the eastern border.
Citing accounts from several smugglers, the document noted that militia continue to profit from illegal gold mining in the area.
Illicit extraction of cobalt, tin, tantalum, tungsten and coltan, which are key in the production of smart phones and other high tech devices, has been reduced to a minimum, but not eliminated, the report said.
SMB’s mine near Rubaya, North Kivu province, has seen a spike of violent clashes between local artisanal miners and police hired to prevent smuggling.
The company is the DRC’s top exporter of coltan, a tantalum-rich metal, and also produces tantalum, cassiterite and wolframite.
The United States passed legislation in 2010 requiring companies listed in the country to disclose where their tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold came from. It also instructed them to perform due diligence.
A similar European Union rule will take effect in 2021 and the London Metal Exchange could ban suppliers of metals that are not responsibly sourced by 2025.
The US Geological Survey estimates that the Congo produced 39% of the world’s tantalum last year.