Friday, October 06, 2006

Sierra Leone finds Coltan reserves

Coltan, or columbite-tantalite, a sought after mineral used in the production of essential electronic components, has been discovered in Sierra Leone, the country's mineral resource minister said on Wednesday. "Yes it is true that coltan has been discovered at a site in Sierra Leone," said minister Mohamed Swarray Deen. He said platinum had also been discovered in the west of the country. The minister said the government would know how much coltan there was and whether it was of commercial value after an international company, which has submitted a bid to extract the mineral, had released its findings. "One company has already asked for permission to explore and we are studying the proposal," Deen said. He did not name the firm or say where it was based. In the meantime, government security and geological personnel were guarding the site to ensure no illicit mining took place. Coltan is mined in several parts of the world. The Democratic Republic of theCongo (DRC) sits on 34 percent of the world's estimated total reserves of the mineral. When refined, coltan becomes tantalum - a highly heat resistant metal powder, used in making electronic components known as pinhead capacitors. Capacitors were essential devices in the manufacture of mobile phones, computers, DVD players and a wide range of other electronic products. Sierra Leone is desperately poor, ranking 176 out of 177 on the United Nations’ human development index, yet it is endowed with considerable mineral wealth. The West African country has diamonds, gold, bauxite, iron ore and chromite. Its diamond riches - blood diamonds - fuelled a barbaric 10-year civil war that ended in 2001. More barbaric is that companies and individuals were still willing to buy these diamonds. During the DRC's own five-year civil war from 1998 to 2003, rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda reportedly exploited coltan to help finance the conflict, in which an estimated four million people died.