By Jonny Hogg KINSHASA (Reuters) - Companies working in Democratic Republic of Congo will soon be forced to submit environmental impact reports or be fined, according to a law passed by the country's parliament.
Details of what the law requires still need to be finalized by ministers but the legislation will apply to existing and future projects in sectors ranging from oil and mining to infrastructure, forestry and farming, according to a copy of the law, seen by Reuters on Tuesday.
The law was adopted last week and is due to be signed off by President Joseph Kabila.
Previously environmental impact studies fell under a decree from the environment minister and many companies did not carry them out or they were less stringent, according to Michel Booto, legal advisor at the ministry of environment.
"Up to now the biggest problems have been with the mining companies who have only had to do impact studies for the mines ministry. Now they must conform with the environment ministry," he told Reuters.
Booto said that some mining firms might have problems complying with the new legislation, but gave no details.
Congo supplies around 5 percent of the world's tin and is among four central African countries that produce 12.5-14 percent of the world's tantalum, used to make components in many hi-tech goods.
Companies will be expected to carry out environmental impact studies immediately after the law is signed off, government officials said. Those who have already completed one will be given two years to make sure they are in line with government regulations.
"The fact that Congo didn't have a law requiring environmental and social impact studies was a major weakness in the country's efforts to promote sustainable development," said Paul Martin, an environmental specialist with the World Bank.
"A lot will now depend on the decisions taken by ministers on how to implement the law," Martin added.
Much mining in the country is not in practice subject to government regulation and eastern Congo has seen decades of a conflict which is often characterized as a battle over the region's mineral resources.
A U.N. report last year said that virtually all mine sites in the east were either under the control of rebels or Congolese armed forces.
Last month a government official said mineral exports from the country's east had dropped sharply since the introduction of industry traceability rules at the beginning of April.
The regulations, adopted by signatory hi-tech firms such as Apple Inc and Hewlett-Packard that use the minerals, require exporters to prove their produce is not funding the armed groups that operate in the region.
(Editing by David Lewis and Anthony Barker)