Report Names Culprits in Central Africa's Dirty War

NEW YORK, New York, April 18, 2001 (ENS) - Foreign armies and criminal cartels are finding the phenomenal mineral wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) too hard to resist, said a United Nations report on the war that continues to ravage the central African nation.

And there are no shortage of companies in developed nations willing to turn a blind eye to the source of those minerals and the methods used to extract them.

Annan

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. (Photo courtesy official web site of the UN Secretary General)
The scale of exploitation is as complex and as vast as the country itself. What is clear, according to Monday's report by a UN "Panel of Experts," is that exploitation of DRC’s natural resources by foreign armies is "systematic and systemic."

"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.

The private sector plays a "vital" role in the exploitation of resources and the continuation of the war, said panel chairwoman Safiatou Ba-N’Daw, who added that several companies have fueled the conflict directly by trading arms for natural resources.

"We were very surprised by what we learned, not only the scale of the exploitation, but the speed in which it is taking place," said Ba-N'Daw, at Monday's press conference at UN Headquarters in New York.

Ba-N'Daw, from the Ivory Coast, is one of five members of the "Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the DRC." The panel was established in June 2000 by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan at the request of the UN Security Council.

The other members are François Ekoko of Cameroon, Mel Holt of the United States, Henri Maire of Switzerland and Moustapha Tall of Senegal.

"Top military commanders from various countries needed and continue to need this conflict for its lucrative nature and for temporarily solving some internal problems in those countries as well as allowing access to wealth," the report states.

The report said the consequences of illegal exploitation had been twofold. First, it cited the "massive availability of financial resources for the Rwandan Patriotic Army, and the individual enrichment of top Ugandan military commanders and civilians."

Second, had been "the emergence of illegal networks headed either by top military officers or businessmen.

"These two elements form the basis of the link between the exploitation of natural resources and the continuation of the conflict."

Even if foreign armies retreat from the DRC, conflict is likely to continue because military commanders have created or protected criminal networks to plunder the country's wealth, said the report.

logging

Illegal logging is adding to wildlife woes in the DRC, formerly known as Zaire. (Photo courtesy WWF)
DRC is blessed with significant quantities of coltan, diamonds, copper, cobalt and gold, as well as timber, coffee and ivory.

The country, which is about one quarter the size of the United States, supports several rare and endangered species such as the bonobo (lesser known member of the great apes), eastern lowland gorilla, mountain gorilla, chimpanzee, white rhino, okapi, and Congo peacock.

Yet these blessings appear only to have cursed the majority of the DRC's 52 million people, particularly since 1994. In that year, ethnic fighting between the Hutus and the Tutsis in neighboring Rwanda and Burundi sparked a massive inflow of refugees to the country, then known as Zaire.

This led to widespread fighting within the DRC, drawing no fewer than five other countries - Uganda, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia - into the conflict. Some 875,000 refugees returned to Rwanda in late 1996 and early 1997, but another 173,000 Rwandan refugees are thought to have been killed by DRC forces.

Despite a peace accord signed in 1999, skirmishes continue as 50,000 foreign troops - mostly from Uganda and Rwanda - remain in parts of the DRC under the guise of "security reasons."

So widespread is the continuing exploitation of DRC's mineral resources, Ba-N'Daw said the panel could not put a dollar figure on the amount already lost. She said "massive and illegal exploitation of the country’s wealth had occurred in two phases since 1998."

The first phase was one of mass scale looting of minerals, wood, livestock and money by armed forces and nationals of Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda.

"The second phase consisted of systematic and systemic exploitation, relying on structures developed during the conquest of power by the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire [AFDL]," said Ba-N'Daw.

The Alliance of Democratic Forces was the guerrilla movement led by Laurent Kabila, who overthrew dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in May 1997. Kabila was assassinated last January. His son, Joseph, is the DRC's new president.

Kabila

Former DRC President, the late Laurent Kabila. (Photo courtesy Embassy of the Democratic Republic of Congo in Ottawa, Canada)
"Proceeds of that illegal activity went to the foreign armies and other forces within the country," said Ba-N'Daw. "Plundering, looting, racketeering and the emergence of criminal cartels in the occupied territories now represent a serious security problem in the region."

The panel experienced several difficulties while researching the report. Witnesses had been threatened and harassed, said Ba-N'Daw. While data was relatively abundant in Uganda and Rwanda, as well as for certain rebel groups, the same was not true for Zimbabwe, Angola or Namibia, she added.

The 56 page report details how transport networks and financial institutions accommodate the exchange of mineral resources for arms, and cash for arms.

"At the heart of the financial setting is the Banque de commerce, du développement et d’industrie (BCDI) located in Kigali [Rwanda]," explains the report.

"According to some sources, there was an understanding between the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and the late Laurent Kabila on the collection and use of financial resources during the time of the AFDL rebellion."

The report uses an example to illustrate the links between BCDI, Citibank in New York, the diamond business and armed rebellion.

Museveni

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. (Photo courtesy Official web site of the president of Uganda)
"In a letter signed by J.P. Moritz, general manager of Société minière de Bakwanga (MIBA), a diamond company, and Ngandu Kamenda, the general manager of MIBA ordered a payment of US$3.5 million to la Générale de commerce d’import/export du Congo (COMIEX), a company owned by late President Kabila and some of his close allies, such as Minister Victor Mpoyo, from an account in BCDI through a Citibank account.

"This amount of money was paid as a contribution from MIBA to the AFDL war effort."

Asked about the relationship between BCDI and Citibank in New York, Ba-N'Daw said that Citibank had been the correspondent bank of BCDI, but did not finance the diamond trade.

"Illegal activities also benefited from the old transportation network that existed prior to the 1998 war," continued the report. "This network consists of key airlines and trucking companies, a number of which aided AFDL troops in their war against the Mobutu regime.

"The pattern of transport remains similar today: merchandise or arms are flown in and natural resources or their products are flown out.

"For example, Aziza Kulsum Gulamali, a businesswoman operating within the region for some time, utilized this network even in the 1980s. She contracted Air Cargo Zaire to transport arms to the Hutu rebels in Burundi and smuggled cigarettes on the return flight.

"Since 1998, aircraft also fly from the military airports at Entebbe [Uganda] and Kigali [Rwanda], transporting arms, military equipment, soldiers and, for some companies, merchandise.

"On the return flights, they will carry coffee, gold, diamond traders and business representatives and, in some cases, soldiers."

The report details the various methods used to extract minerals from the DRC prior to selling the materials abroad.

"In the mining sector, SOMINKI (Société minière et industrielle du Kivu) had seven years’ worth of columbo-tantalite (coltan) in stock in various areas," said the report.

"From late November 1998, Rwandan forces and their RCD allies organized its removal and transport to Kigali [Rwanda]." (RCD stands for Rassemblement congolais pour la démocratie - Rally for Congolese Democracy.

"Depending on the sources, between 2,000 and 3,000 tons of cassiterite and between 1,000 and 1,500 tons of coltan were removed from the region between November 1998 and April 1999. A very reliable source informed the Panel that it took the Rwandans about a month to fly this coltan to Kigali.

gorilla

Eastern lowland gorilla (Gorilla beringei graurei). (Photo courtesy IUCN-World Conservation Union)
"The Panel, however, received official documents including one in which RCD acknowledged removing six tons of coltan and 200 tons of cassiterite from SOMINKI for a total of US$722,482."

The report goes on to detail a well organized campaign by Rwandan soldiers to poach elephants for ivory inside the DRC's national parks, many of them UNESCO listed World Heritage sites.

"Numerous accounts and statistics from regional conservation organizations show that, in the area controlled by the Ugandan troops and Sudanese rebels, nearly 4,000 out of 12,000 elephants were killed in the Garamba Park in northeastern DRC between 1995 and 1999.

"The situation in other parks and reserves is equally grave, including Kahuzi-Biega Park, the Okapi Reserve and Virunga Park. The number of okapis, gorillas and elephants has dwindled to small populations.

"In the Kahuzi-Biega Park, a zone controlled by the Rwandans and RCD and rich in coltan, only two out of 350 elephant families remained in 2000. There is serious concern among conservationists that the rest fled of their own accord or were killed, as two tons of elephant tusks were traced in the Bukavu area late in 2000."

Under the heading "Facilitators or passive accomplices?" the report names companies and individuals who while not part of the conflict, have helped the exploitation of DRC's resources.

"Sabena Cargo as well as SDV of the Bollore group have been among the key companies in this chain of exploitation and continuation of war," said the report. "Thousands of tons of coltan from the DRC were carried from Kigali or through the port of Dar es Salaam [Tanzania].

"The United States honorary consul in Bukavu [DRC], as he presented himself, Ramnik O. Kotecha, in addition to promoting deals between American companies and coltan dealers in the region, is himself Chairman of the Kotecha group of companies based in Bukavu and deals in coltan."

The report said the increase in revenues of the Rwandan army from coltan sales was made easy by, "The passive role of some private companies such as Sabena and SDV for the transport of coltan, Citibank for the financial transaction as the corresponding bank of BCDI, the self-proclaimed U.S. honorary consul in Bukavu and some staff in various embassies in Kigali."

map

Map of the DRC. (Map courtesy CIA World Fact Book)
Report also cites "the rush to profit" of foreign companies ready to do business regardless of "elements of unlawfulness and irregularities."

SDV is subsidiary of the French based Bollore group, one of Europe's top 200 companies with 27,000 employees worldwide. Sabena is the national airline of Belgium, the former colonial power in DRC when it was known as Belgian Congo, till independence in 1960.

The World Bank comes in for heavy criticism by the panel's report. The Bank has praised Uganda's economic performance and reform program as a model for its new debt relief program, the Highly Indebted Poor Countries initiative.

"The Panel has however indications that this economic performance was driven in part, especially over the past three years, by the exploitation of the resources of the DRC," said the report.

"Notes exchanged between World Bank staff clearly show that the Bank was informed about a significant increase in gold and diamond exports from a country that produces very little of these minerals, or exports quantities of gold that it could not produce."

"In the case of Uganda and its exploitation of the natural resources of the DRC, the World Bank never questioned the increasing exports of resources and in one instance a staff member even defended it.

"During the Panel’s visit to Uganda, the representative of the Bank dismissed any involvement of Uganda in the exploitation of those resources. The Bank not only encouraged Uganda and Rwanda indirectly by defending their case, but equally gave the impression of rewarding them by proposing these countries for the Highly Indebted Poor Countries debt relief initiative."

Prior to making its recommendations, the panel's report lists a sample of 34 companies importing minerals from the DRC via Rwanda. They are largely coltan importers based in Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Canada, Russia and India.

Coltan (colombo tantalite) is a precious hardening agent for metal used by high tech companies producing modern electronic products.

The panel’s recommendations revolve around six broad themes:

Ba-N’Daw elaborated on some of the recommendations. She said the panel wants the UN Security Council to declare a temporary embargo on the import/export of coltan, pyrochlore, cassiterite, timber, gold and diamonds from and to Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi until their involvement in the exploitation of the natural resources of the DRC was cleared.

The panel wants an immediate embargo on weapons and military material to the rebel groups, extending that embargo to the countries that supported those groups.

The panel also recommended that the Security Council ask the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to consider suspending their support to the budgets of Rwanda and Uganda until the end of the conflict.

The panel is not the first to be dispatched by the UN to Central Africa. In 1997, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan sent a team to investigate war crimes committed by all parties during the first Congo war. It concluded that crimes against humanity and perhaps genocide had occurred during the 1996 conflict.

That did not prevent a resumption of fighting in 1998, that continues in parts of the DRC today. According to the New York based group Human Rights Watch, both the Ugandans and leaders of the Congolese Rally for Democracy-Liberation Movement are recruiting and training children as combatants.

"In August 2000, Uganda airlifted 163 children from [Democratic Republic of] Congo to Kampala [in Uganda] for military training," said Alison Des Forges, senior advisor at the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch.

To read the "Report of the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, click here.

To read "Uganda in Eastern DRC: Fueling Political and Ethnic Strife," by Human Rights Watch, click here.