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UN spotlights link between natural resources and conflict

UNITED NATION: The UN Security Council on Monday spotlighted the link between the illegal explotation of natural resources and armed conflict in world troublespots, particularly in Africa.

After a day-long debate chaired by Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht, the 15-member body stressed the need for more effective international controls to prevent such practices in strife-torn countries.

The fight for control of natural resources such as diamond, water, oil, copper, timber and other raw materials was a key factor in civil wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ivory Coast, Sudan's Darfur region and Angola.

Some 34 speakers took the floor after which the council issued a statement highlighting the role UN peacekeeping missions in such countries could play in helping governments concerned "prevent the illegal exploitation of those resources from further fueling the conflict".

The council also singled out "the crucial role" the UN Peacebuilding Commission, created just a year ago, could play with other UN and non-UN bodies in assisting governments "upon their request, in ensuring that natural resources become an engine of sustainable development" in post-conflict situations.

And it also said the private sector should play its part by adopting "a responsible business conduct" such as provided by Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development guidelines.

The debate over the sensitive issue came at the initiative of Belgium, which currently chairs the council this month and which pleaded for good management of natural resources, particularly in DRC, a mineral-rich, former Belgian colony in the heart of Africa.

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 DRC conflict which raged from 1998 to 2003 drew in seven foreign armies, including those of neighboring Rwanda, Uganda, Angola and Zimbabwe. It claimed some 2.5 million lives.

De Gucht suggested reinforcing "the responsibility of national authorities and avoid that exploitation of natural resources falls outside state control or is used against it."

UN under secretary general for political affairs Lynn Pascoe pointed to the lessons learned from the imposition of targeted UN sanctions in Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Sudan and DRC to stem such practices.

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 cricitical 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 described the "equitable management of resources (as) a key aspect for post-conflict reconstruction" in those countries.

New York, Tuesday, AFP.

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