- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2001

NEW YORK — The nations fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo are busy plundering its mineral riches in a "self-financing war," according to a new report issued yesterday by a U.N. panel.
The group recommends that the Security Council slap an arms embargo on Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi and attempt to stop the sale of diamonds and precious metals likely looted from Congo.
The report also expressed concern about the activities of Angolan, Namibian and Zimbabwean soldiers but noted that those governments declined to cooperate with the experts.
The panel, whose visit was authorized by the Security Council in June 2000, found "mass-scale looting" of stockpiled minerals, coffee, timber, livestock and money by the armies of Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi.
Military and government officials then export the diamonds, gold, and a composite mineral called coltan to line their own pockets and enrich a network of shell companies owned by well-connected associates.
"Key individual actors including top army commanders and businessmen on the one hand, and government structures on the other, have been the engines of this systematic and systemic exploitation," said the report.
President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Paul Kagame of Rwanda are, at the very least, politically involved, according to the panel of experts, which spent close to seven months in the region.
"They received this information, they were aware, and they decided not to act," said Safiatou Ba-NDaw of Ivory Coast, who headed the expert panel.
The report, written by five experts, goes so far as to say the two leaders "are on the verge of becoming godfathers of the illegal exploitation of natural resources and the continuation of the conflict."
Mr. Musevenis son and sister-in-law are heavily involved in trading and transportation, the report says. The Security Council, which authorized the panels investigation, will take up the matter on Friday.
Meanwhile, the U.N. efforts to get a Congo peacekeeping mission up to strength faltered over the weekend, when Rwandan-backed rebels refused to allow a contingent of 120 Moroccan U.N. peacekeepers to land in the northern part of the country. It was the first major obstacle since the United Nations began deploying there in recent weeks.
Also yesterday, Congo closed its western border with the Republic of Congo, citing unspecified security concerns. Kinshasa and Brazzaville, the respective capitals, face each other across the Congo River, and rebels have been known to slip easily back and forth.
But the expert panels report makes clear that the fighting, particularly among rebel factions, is concentrated in mineral-rich areas, rather than along geographic boundaries that would support Rwandas claim that it is trying to prevent insurgents from entering its territory.
Fighting has been heavy in copper and cobalt-producing Katanga province, as well as diamond-rich Mbuji Mayi. Both areas are far removed from the eastern border.
The 56-page report outlines how soldiers would, and presumably still do, order local farmers and even children into the mines to extract diamonds or other minerals, loot manufacturing plans and private property, and carry the booty home in military convoys that are not taxed or even examined.
The raw materials were often shipped to industrialized countries for processing, including Belgium, China, Denmark, Japan and the United States.
"Almost all the belligerents are in one way or another benefiting from the conflict," said Miss Ba-NDaw at a press conference yesterday. "The only losers are the Congolese people."
Even the wildlife is not safe. The report notes that the numbers of elephants, okapis and gorillas have dwindled in areas controlled by Rwandan and Sudanese rebels.
The report does not spare the Congo government, which has created beneficial monopolies on diamonds and awarded lucrative mineral concessions to sympathetic governments, such as Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
The expert panel chastises the World Bank for failing to notice Ugandas increased exports were likely a result of its incursions into Congo. It says that bank officials had been notified of increased exports of diamond and gold in a country not known for producing much of either.
Miss Ba-NDaw was joined on the panel by one American, former Treasury official Mel Holt, as well as representatives from Cameroon, Switzerland and Senegal.


LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide