How Gold Pays For Congo's Deadly War

60 Minutes: Killing Continues In The Deadliest War Since WWII As Gold And Other Minerals Pay For Weapons

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The price of gold set another all-time record this past week. There's demand for gold for investments, for circuits in cell phones and computers, and, in this holiday season, for jewelry. But there's another price being paid for gold that you probably haven't heard about.

Gold and other minerals are funding the deadliest war since World War II. More than five million people have died in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Years ago, the jewelry industry banned the trafficking in so-called blood diamonds, but the same hasn't happened with gold.

In the heart of central Africa, "60 Minutes" found a campaign of rape and murder being funded largely by gold that is exported to the world.

Photo Essay: Congo's Gold
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Web Extra: Greed and Chaos
International Rescue Committee: Congo Crisis
Human Rights Watch
The Enough Project: Conflict Minerals
No Dirty Gold Campaign
Responsible Jewellery Council

Correspondent Scott Pelley visited a gold mine in eastern Congo, dug from the side of a mountain by the bare hands and stooped backs of a hundred men. They've lifted tons of dirt one pan at a time, building terraces as they descend. The hunger for gold drives men into the earth so that other men can kill.

Joining Pelley was Anneke Van Woudenberg, who has spent ten years in Congo. She investigated the mines for Human Rights Watch and wrote one of the most respected studies on the trade.

"You know, this is a little bit dangerous business…especially for those guys," Pelley remarked, as they maneuvered along one of the narrow mud terraces of the gold mine.

"It's particularly for those guys," she replied. "And there are regular mudslides, rock falls. You know, the death rate is extraordinarily high in these mines."

Asked what life is like for Congolese miners, Van Woudenberg said, "You make maybe if you're lucky a dollar or two a day. You have no health care, no social insurance, you have nothing. People do this because they hope to become rich, but very few do."

The people are destitute. But Congo is the Saudi Arabia of minerals. In addition to gold, the earth is loaded with metals such as tin, copper, and something called coltan that is essential to the circuits in computers and cell phones.

Our journey started beside Lake Kivu in the teeming city of Bukavu. Eastern Congo is spectacular, remote and lawless.

To get to the gold fields, we traveled through territory controlled by one militia, then another. We found a gold mine on the Mwana River in the province of South Kivu. The first thing you notice are the children. Families set them to work early and for many it's the only life they'll know.

Their method for mining is at least 2,000 years old. They lay blankets in the riverbed and let the sediment collect in the fibers. The blankets are wrung out and somewhere in all that mud is treasure.

They mix mercury into the sediment, which chemically binds the gold together. Then they simply burn the mercury away. No one worries too much about the toxic fumes; the neurological damage from mercury may not show up for years.

Pelley watched as a mercury burner produced a tiny piece of gold, worth perhaps $5.

The gold is one of the factors driving what is now the deadliest war on Earth.

In 1996, Uganda and Rwanda invaded Congo. Seven more countries joined in and started stealing Congo's resources. The invasion ended, but ever since, rebel militias and government forces have fought over local power, ethnic hatred and control of the minerals.