Rwanda says DR Congo claims against Apple are 'baseless'

Rwanda's President Paul Kagame. [AFP]

Rwandan authorities on Friday accused the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) of making "baseless allegations" against Apple after Kinshasa accused the technology giant of using minerals smuggled from the country's volatile east in its products.

The DRC's lawyers on Thursday accused Apple of purchasing minerals smuggled from the east into neighbouring Rwanda, where they are laundered and "integrated into the global supply chain".

The Paris-based lawyers sent Apple a formal notice seen by AFP, effectively warning the company that it could face legal action if the alleged practice continues.

On Friday, the Rwandan government's spokeswoman Yolande Makolo dismissed the claims as "a rehashing of baseless allegations and conjecture, attempting to leverage media interest in one of the world's biggest companies".

"This is just the latest stunt by the government of the DRC who are constantly seeking to deflect attention onto Rwanda with false accusations," she told AFP.

The DRC's mineral-rich Great Lakes region has been wracked by violence since the 1990s, with tensions escalating in late 2021 following the resurgence of the M23 militia.

The DRC, the United Nations and Western countries accuse Rwanda of supporting the M23.

Rwanda's President Paul Kagame has brushed off the allegations, but said he is sympathetic to the M23 and has accused the DRC of supporting a Hutu militia hostile to Kigali.

The DRC is rich in tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold - often referred to as 3T or 3TG - that are used in producing smartphones and other electronic devices.

The DRC's lawyers alleged that Apple relied on "a range of suppliers that buy minerals from Rwanda, a mineral-poor country that has preyed upon the DRC and plundered its natural resources for nearly three decades".

Contacted by AFP, Apple pointed to statements from its 2023 annual corporate report regarding the alleged use of so-called conflict minerals that are crucial for a wide range of high-tech products.

"Based on our due diligence efforts... we found no reasonable basis for concluding that any of the smelters or refiners of 3TG determined to be in our supply chain as of December 31, 2023, directly or indirectly financed or benefited armed groups in the DRC or an adjoining country," it said.

M23 rebels currently control large swathes of North Kivu province and are encircling its capital Goma, where more than one million people displaced by the war have crammed into camps.

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