- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 11, 2000

Deadly diamond trade

Congolese Ambassador Faida Mitifu is accusing neighboring nations of invading her country only to enrich themselves by raiding Congo's wealth of natural resources, especially diamonds.

Mrs. Mitifu, in testimony before Congress this week, called on the United States to pressure Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda to withdraw their troops that are supporting rebels trying to overthrow Congolese President Laurent Kabila.

Burundi denies it has any troops in Congo. Rwanda and Uganda insist their troops are only protecting the security of their borders.

"The fear of insecurity at their borders initially advanced by the invading troika Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi has turned out to be a pretense for a handful of money launderers, arms dealers and diamond traffickers to make my country a hub for their illicit and often deadly business," Mrs. Mitifu told the House International Relations subcommittee on Africa.

She said that recent clashes between Rwandan and Ugandan forces inside Congo "illustrates those countries' complete defiance of international laws."

"Clearly, what is truly at stake in this war today is henceforth the control and mineral exploitation of the riches of my country," Mrs. Mitifu said.

"The Congo's great mineral wealth copper, cobalt, uranium, diamonds, gold, silver and tin derivatives, to name a few are the envy of many countries and with good reason. Properly exploited, this wealth could generate $2 billion to $3 billion [a year]."

The ambassador asked the United States to "exert influence as superpower and peace broker to pressure the governments of Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi into withdrawing immediately from our land."

She also asked Congress to impose "severe sanctions" on the sale of diamonds of "questionable origin."

A spokesman for the Ugandan Embassy denied his government is in any way involved in the illegal diamond trade.

"We are in Congo for our own security," said Richard Kabonero. He dismissed Mrs. Mitifu's complaints as "the usual comments" from Congo.

"Our officials are not involved," he said, "but diamond smuggling is definitely going on."

Congo, meanwhile, is using diamonds to pay Zimbabwe, an ally in its fight against Congo rebels and their supporters, according to press reports.

French visit

French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine arrives here today for talks with Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright on "all the main current issues," a French government spokesman said yesterday.

They are expected to discuss the Middle East peace process, nuclear disarmament and the situations in Russia and Kosovo, the spokesman said.

"This important visit is part of the highly developed contacts between France and the United States. As you know, the minister and Mrs. Albright are in contact all the time," he said.

The visit comes a month before France takes over the rotating presidency of the European Union.

On his two-day visit, Mr. Vedrine will also hold talks with National Security Adviser Samuel R. Berger and members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Ambassador to Yemen

President Clinton has nominated a career diplomat to be the new U.S. ambassador to Yemen.

Marjorie Ransom, now in charge of the State Department's three foreign press centers, is fluent in Arabic and has served as deputy chief of mission in Syria and as minister counselor for public affairs in Egypt.

Argentine leader visits

Argentine President Fernando de la Rua will visit President Clinton on June 13, the White House said this week.

Mr. de la Rua's working visit will be his first trip to Washington since he was inaugurated in December.

"The broad range of our close and important relationship with this respected ally will be covered during the meeting," the White House said.

Mr. Clinton and Mr. de la Rua first met in Davos, Switzerland, at the World Economic Forum in January. They are also due to meet in Berlin at the Conference on Progressive Governance for the 21st Century on June 2.

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