Colombian police have seized 17 tons of coltan reportedly belonging to FARC rebels, illustrating how armed groups have gained control of the black market for the valuable mineral and turned it into another revenue stream.
Police seized 17 tons of coltan in a raid on a warehouse in the eastern province of Guainia on September 11, which they said was being used by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The operation was the country's largest-ever seizure of coltan, a metallic ore used to make electronic devices.
Coltan is becoming an increasingly important source of revenue for the rebels, and some refer to it as "guerrilla gold." The shipment was reportedly intended for export to Japan, according to RCN Radio.
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Colombia has an estimated 5 percent of the world’s coltan reserves, and the mineral is making a big impact on conflict within the country. As well as controlling unlicensed gold mines, both guerrillas and paramilitaries have turned to illegal coltan mining in the east of the country to fund their operations, with the price of the mineral fluctuating between a high of $200 and a more recent estimate of $50 per pound. Armed groups have also moved into coltan operations in Venezuela, which announced the existence of vast reserves of the mineral in 2009.
To try and combat the problem, Colombia has made the mining and export of coltan illegal until it can be properly regulated. President Juan Manuel Santos has also ordered police to step up raids against illicit mining, and in March he announced that the government was considering designating the region in which coltan is mined as a “strategic reserve, for national security reasons.” Venezuela has also outlawed the mining of the mineral, but the evidence suggests that authorities have failed to take serious steps to address coltan mining in the border region.