United Nations experts report that this clause has scared traders in the international market away from Africa's Great Lakes region. The Congo project manager for the German geological institute BGR, Uwe Naeher, said last year the effects had been "devastating for livelihoods in eastern Congo."
Last month, two Chinese trading houses re-opened in Congo's border city of Goma, offering to export tin ore to Hong Kong, a development that seems to have prompted the Walikale petition.
One of Walikale's mines, Bisie, was at one point believed to account for most of the tin exported from eastern Congo.
But an interim report from the U.N.'s group of experts on Congo published last weekend said traders today are exploiting the fact that minerals cannot be purchased legally in Bisie and are buying tin ore at a low price."Smugglers (at Bisie) work with some of the local civil and military authorities," the report said. "They transport the minerals at night in military vehicles to avoid check points." Kihangi said it would be harder to run this type of smuggling operation if the ban were lifted. "Senior authorities are profiting from the mining ban," said Kihangi. "If Bisie was open to a large number of miners, they couldn't control the trade the way they do now. They don't care about the tax the province is losing." Jean Ruyange Njongo, the mining minister for North Kivu province, which is home to Walikale, said authorities are planning to send a validation mission to Bisie and other mines in Walikale with a view to resuming production.