Colombian police seized a record amount of coltan from guerrilla smugglers in an indigenous village in the southern department of Vaupes near the Brazilian border on Tuesday.
Police reported that they seized 17 tons of illegally mined coltan (Columbite-tantalite) valued at more than $1.3 million, which guerrillas allegedly purchased from the indigenous community to fund their dissident activities.
According to the police report the coltan, a metallic ore, is purchased from the locals by members of illegal groups at a value approximating $10 per kilo while the international market price is between $80 and $100.
The dark metallic ore is used in the manufacturing of electronic products, satellites, guided weapons such as missiles and computers, with 60% of the world’s resources used in the manufacture of mobile phones.
Illegal mining by guerrillas has become a problem in Colombia over the last number of years following a crackdown on drug cultivation, spurring President Juan Manuel Santos in February to call it a “cancer that must be removed.”
The police report said that the haul “was achieved thanks to the newly created Special Operations Group (GOES) for the environmental mining sector.” The operation had to be performed with the support of the Ombudsman and the Colombian Family Welfare Institute because the raid took place on an indigenous reserve.
So far this year the police have carried out 105 operations against illegal mining that resulted in the capture of 1,460 people, with 94 of these taken into protection because of ties to illegal groups. According to the police, only 19 convictions have actually been realized. Last year nearly 13,000 arrests were made in relation to illegal mining activities.
The coltan is usually taken from Colombia through its border with Brazil and then sent to countries such as Germany, Belgium, Kazakhstan and the U.S., said the police report.
Colombia contains 5% of the world’s resources of coltan, totaling an average capacity of 25 tons a month, however it is not currently legal to export the mineral from the country.