The Industry Standard reports that the demand for an ore called columbite-tantalite -- or coltan -- is helping to fuel the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. When refined, coltan becomes tantalum, a highly heat-resistant metal powder that is a key component in everything from mobile phones to computer chips and VCR's. As the demand for these products has increased, "a new, more sinister market began flourishing in the ...Congo. There, warring groups - many funded and supplied by neighboring Rwanda and Uganda - are exploiting coltan mining to help finance a bloody civil war now in its third year." Although selling coltan is not illegal, a United Nations report in April suggested that thousands of tons of coltan had been smuggled from the Congo into Rwanda and Uganda, and may have eventually made it to the U.S. companies that use the material. For their part, these companies have no way of knowing whether the tantalum they use is helping to finance the civil war. Another side effect of the coltan trade: mining activity is especially big in the mountainous northeastern region of the Congo, where endangered gorillas live.
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