Global Policy Forum

Plunder of DRC Resources Denied

Agence France Presse
April 17, 2001

A Ugandan-backed rebel group operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Tuesday denied United Nations claims that it was plundering precious natural resources in northern areas of the vast country. Jean-Pierre Bemba, leader of the Congolese Liberation Front (FLC), told AFP by telephone that his group was ready to welcome an "objective" commission of inquiry into the matter.

A UN panel said in a report released on Monday that the plunder of natural resources in the DRC had become the motive and engine of the war there. "The DRC conflict has become one for the access and control of five key minerals: coltan, diamonds, copper, cobalt and gold," panel chairperson Safiatou Ba-N'Daw told a news conference in New York. Coltan is a mineral used in the production of mobile phones, among other devices. Trafficking in timber, coffee and ivory was also pervasive, she said, and "almost all the belligerents are, in one way or another, profiting from the conflict".

The panel recommended the establishment of "an international mechanism" to prosecute high-ranking military and government officials, including relatives of presidents Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Paul Kagame of Rwanda.

Bemba, a millionaire businessman, was also among those recommended for charges. The FLC leader on Tuesday expressed his "surprise" at the report, which he said was biased and "based on rumours". "The finances of the movement are an open book and have been subject to accounting since the first day of the rebellion."

The FLC, backed by Uganda, has, along with the Rwandan-backed Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), been at war since August 1998 with Kinshasa government forces, which are supported by soldiers from Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe. "Not a gram (ounce) of wood has been exported in three years from our territories; and there is no gold in Equateur," he said, referring to the vast northern province his forces control.

"I have never received anyone from the (UN) commission of inquiry, I have never met a single member of the panel; who are these people, where did they get their information?" He added that he was ready to accept a "commission of inquiry which will come to stay and give an objective report".

Sabena denies profiting from conflict

The Belgian airline company Sabena in Brussels on Tuesday denied it was unduly profiting from the on-going conflict in Congo after a UN report claimed 13 Belgian companies were doing so. According to the report released to the United Nations' Security Council on Monday, Belgian businesses were capitalising on the on-going civil strife in Belgium's former colony. It named Sabena's cargo unit as being involved in the transport of minerals and other resources.

Sabena, which runs regular passenger and cargo routes to many African destinations, denied any involvement in alleged plundering by various rebel factions, which are believed to be profiteering from lucrative coltan mines, using the profits to fund their military campaigns. "We respect all international regulations in connection with banned goods and in connection with embargoes," said Sabena spokesperson Wilfried Remans on VRT radio.

New mineral to fund conflicts

Belgian media reported last week that Belgium played a key role in the trade of columbite-tantalite, or coltan, which is used in the production of power-storing components for high-tech gear ranging from nuclear reactors to cellphones to PlayStations. The price for coltan has skyrocketed on world markets as a result of the booming mobile phone industry world-wide. As such, it is the impetus behind the opening of new mines across Congo, where an abundance of the mineral has been found. Coltan is becoming the mineral of choice to fund conflicts in the region after the West took steps to restrict the illegal trade of diamonds to fund rebel movements.

The UN report accused top military commanders in Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, along with a number of companies, individuals and a growing international network of criminal cartels, of helping to systematically exploit Congo's resources. It called for the United Nations to impose an arms and trade embargo on Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi for plundering Congo's mineral riches in their 2 1/2-year war to topple the former government.

Belgium, which has the world's largest diamond trading centre in the port city of Antwerp, came under fire last year for its lax controls on the black market trade of diamonds, after it was found that rebel groups in Africa were trading gems for guns. The Antwerp diamond industry handles 80 percent of world trade in rough diamonds and controls 50 percent of trade in the cut gem.

More Information on the DRC
More Information on Diamonds in Conflict
More Information on the Dark Side of Resources
More Information on Sanctions


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