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‘Blood minerals’ funding Congo war?

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DAKAR, Senegal — Consumers buying iPods, Blackberries and cell phones should use their buying power to pressure electronics manufacturers to stop buying the minerals fueling one of Africa's deadliest wars, activists said Wednesday.

The Washington-based Enough Project argued in a paper released Wednesday that the militias responsible for systematically raping women in Congo are funding their war through the illicit sale of minerals used to make the world's most popular electronic products.

"The electronic devices used by almost every American provide unique leverage to help end the scourge of violence" in Congo, wrote John Prendergast, the author of the report and the founder of the Enough Project, a group aimed at ending crimes against humanity.

Congo, a country the size of Western Europe, has some of the world's largest deposits of minerals, including tin, which is used as solder in circuit boards. Congo also has vast reserves of tungsten, used to make cell phones and Blackberries vibrate, and tantalum, an ore used to store electricity in capacitors in iPods.

Armed groups in Congo's lawless east control many of the mines, as well as taxation points along highways and border posts through which the ores are shipped on their way to the global market. U.N. investigators, in reports released in recent months, have identified the trade in minerals as one of the main economic forces supporting the conflict, which has caused a quarter-of-a-million people to flee their homes since last fall.

Because the ores in Congo typically pass through numerous handlers and are then melted to create alloys, it's difficult, if not impossible, to tie the minerals mined at a rebel-controlled mine to a specific product purchased by a U.S. consumer. But data cited in U.N. documents make it appear likely that at least some of the ore mined in Congo is used in electronics products sold in the U.S.

Prendergast argued that the onus is on manufacturers to prove their supply chain is clean. The Enough Project is calling on corporations — including Apple, Nokia, Nintendo and Hewlett Packard — to sign a pledge committing them to ensuring their products do not come from conflict zones.