By Aaron Ross
A possible plan by U.S. President Donald Trump to suspend a rule on "conflict minerals" could help fund armed groups and contribute to a surge in unrest in central Africa, regional states said on Wednesday.
Sources told Reuters last week that Trump planned to issue a directive targeting a Dodd-Frank rule that requires companies to disclose whether their products contain "conflict minerals" from war-torn parts of Africa, including Democratic Republic of Congo.
A leaked draft seen by Reuters calls for the rule to be temporarily suspended for two years.
Competition for Congo's vast mineral resources has fuelled two decades of conflict in eastern Congo, including a 1998-2003 regional war that killed millions, most from hunger and disease.
The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), a regional body comprising 12 member states including Congo, warned that repealing the provision would make it harder to ensure that minerals were conflict free.
"This might ultimately lead to a generalized proliferation of terrorist groups, trans-boundary money laundry and illicit financial flows in the region," the ICGLR said in a statement.
The minerals covered by the rule - gold, tin, tantalum and tungsten - are important components in various electronics, aviation products and jewellery.
Several international campaign groups have urged Trump to maintain the provision. Human Rights Watch said last week that suspending the rule would undermine efforts to eliminate conflict minerals from supply chains.
Business groups opposed to the measure say it forces companies to furnish politically charged information and that it costs too much for companies to trace the source of minerals.
The ICGLR's statement acknowledged that the initial roll out of the law had imposed a "de facto embargo", as major companies avoided buying minerals from the region, but said implementation of an ICGLR programme to trace minerals' origins had led to a revival of exports.