I first heard about coltan on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer. Here is a podcast of the story. The mineral is a key source of revenue for the warring factions and is critical in the manufacture of laptops, mobile phones and digital cameras. Here is an excerpt from a BBC article about ‘blood tantalum':
It is a far cry from the drama of the “No blood on my cell phone” campaign that a group of NGOs and religious communities have launched in Europe to lobby for an embargo on so called “blood tantalum”, the colombo-tantalite ore that comes from the war zones in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Tantalum is essential in the manufacture of electrical components known as pinhead capacitors.
These regulate voltage and store energy in mobile phones, tens of millions of which have been sold in the past few years.
The European lobby groups, like the regional analysts, say that coltan production is fuelling the war in Congo.
And here is an excellent video on the subject:
I am not sure if the iPhone contains Congolese coltan but here is Apple’s Supplier Code of Conduct which, while tightly worded, does not specifically mention the location or the mineral.