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About a quarter of the 50 or so wars and armed conflicts active in 2001 had a strong link to the exploitation of natural resources in the sense that legal or illegal resource exploitation helped trigger or exacerbate violent conflict or financed its continuation. This situation continues today. The human toll of these resource-related conflicts is horrendous. Rough estimates suggest that more than 5 million people were killed during the 1990s. Close to 6 million fled to neighbouring countries, and anywhere from 11 to 15 million people were displaced inside the borders of their home countries. But some people - warlords, corrupt governments, and unscrupulous corporate leaders - benefited from the pillage, taking in billions of dollars.

Since the late 1990s, awareness has grown of the close links among illegal resource extraction, arms trafficking, violent conflict, human rights violations, humanitarian disaster, and environmental destruction. Expert panels established by the United Nations have investigated cases in Angola, Sierra Leone, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Civil society groups have launched a campaign against ‘conflict diamonds’ from those countries and have shed light on other conflict resources as well. Company and industry practices are coming under greater scrutiny. Media reports have helped carry these concerns from activist and specialist circles to a broader audience. All of this also comes against the background of an intensifying debate over the unchecked proliferation of small arms, the weapons of choice in resource-based conflicts.

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