De Beers applies to return to Congo

De Beers is seeking exploration rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo as part of plans to return to the war-ravaged country now that a fragile peace is taking root, the Financial Times reports.

Richard Napier, De Beers’ manager for producer relations, told the London-based business publication that he was waiting to hear from the DRC’s mining licensing authority about a series of applications.

The company’s planned return to Congo, four years after it officially ceased buying there as part of efforts to disassociate itself from conflict diamonds, coincides with new interest from mining multinationals in the country, the publication reports.

Congo has the world’s largest reserves of cobalt, by some estimates its largest diamond reserves and some of the world’s richest gold fields. It also harbors a host of more specialized minerals used in the production of aeronautical and telecommunications technology.

Formal mining operations largely collapsed during the past decade of conflict, giving way to an artisanal sector in which millions of people now eke out a living.

The World Bank and other financial institutions involved in a post-conflict reconstruction program are pushing for greater multinational involvement in the sector’s rehabilitation.

“There are lots of opportunities in the DRC and [its] new mining code and the whole process put in place through World Bank involvement makes it a much more certain environment to do exploration,” Napier reportedly said.

De Beers’ return to Congo also coincides with publication this week of a report by a United Nations panel of experts that has been investigating allegations since 2000 that the battle for control of minerals became a central cause of the war.

De Beers was among dozens of western companies named in a previous U.N. report in relation to possible infractions of Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development guidelines on ethical business, most relating to the supply chain of commodities traded from conflict zones. The U.N. panel alleged that two “sightholders” authorized to trade with the Diamond Trading Company (DTC), the rough diamond-trading arm of De Beers, “have purchased rough diamonds from sources that encourage and contribute to the conflict in the DRC.”