DRC Mines Minister Martin Kabwelulu has suspended all activities by two exporting companies for failing to check on the sources of mineral ores they are trading, in breach of national regulations introduced last September to implement UN and OECD due diligence guidelines. The two companies, TTT Mining (exporting as CMM) and Huaying, are believed to have been active in North Kivu province, which until recently was the country’s main centre of artisanal tin mining.

The government’s plans to re-start exports of “conflict-free” minerals from selected sites in the province have been thwarted by an upsurge in violence and insecurity there since April, following large-scale defections of former rebel troops from the national army. General Bosco Ntaganda, a career warlord with a warrant from the International Criminal Court to his name, mutinied from the Congolese army, taking with him over 600 armed men drawn from the former CNDP rebel group. According to a statement by NGO Global Witness “The group has made millions of dollars by controlling some of the region’s most lucrative mining areas since joining the national army in a 2009 peace deal.”

Global Witness welcomed the move to suspend and investigate the two companies, which had been named in a report published by the UN Group of Experts in DRC last November: “The Congolese government’s decision to suspend minerals traders for failing to do due diligence sends a strong message to other companies exporting minerals from eastern DRC that they must source responsibly, or face sanctions.”

North Kivu’s mineral trade previously accounted for 90% of export earnings and as much as 50% of provincial revenue, Emmanuel Ndimubanzi, the head of the province’s Division of Mines, told Bloomberg in a recent interview. That money “has dried up,” he said, as a result of Western companies stopping buying from the region. “We’re hoping the security situation won’t degenerate further,” he said. “The only hope for us is to export these conflict-free minerals.”