Congo urges U.N. to help end the plunder pf its riches

Congo’s foreign minister urged the U.N. Security Council to help end the massive exploitation of his country’s riches, but he opposed any financial restrictions on Congolese citizens and companies a U.N.-appointed panel says are reaping illegal profits, The Associated Press reports.

Calling the theft of Congo’s natural resources “one of the greatest plunderings that the African continent has ever seen,” Foreign Minister Leonard She Okitundu thanked the panel Thursday for highlighting the link between the illegal exploitation of the country’s wealth and “the pursuit of armed aggression,” the AP reports.

But he said it was wrong for the panel to equate Congo, a victim of aggression, with Uganda and Rwanda, which attacked his country and still have troops on Congolese soil. Okitundu said Congo’s ally, Zimbabwe, whose soldiers “have paid the price of blood in order to have the Democratic Republic of Congo live,” also should not be treated like “the armed aggressors.”

Okitundu was responding to Monday’s U.N. report accusing criminal groups linked to the armies of Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Congo of plundering Congo’s riches. The report also called on the Security Council to impose financial restrictions on 29 companies and 54 individuals.

Among those on the list was the minister of the presidency of Congo, Augustin Matumba Mwanke.

Even though troops from Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe are withdrawing from Congo under recent peace agreements, the panel said the groups have made elaborate arrangements to continue exploiting billions of dollars worth of diamonds, gold, copper, cobalt, timber and coltan, an excellent conductor used in the high-tech, communications and aerospace industries.

The panel’s chairman, Ambassador Mahmoud Kassem of Egypt, introduced the report at Thursday’s open council meeting with a warning that “success on the political and military front will ultimately prove unsustainable if the economic issues that contribute to prolonging armed conflict are not resolved,” the AP reports.

He urged the council to take “decisive action” to consolidate peace and rebuild the region’s economies.

During the past four years, Kassem said, three distinct groups have carved out separate spheres of economic control in different areas of Congo extending “far beyond precious natural resources to encompass territory, fiscal revenues and trade in general,” the AP reports.

One is controlled by the Rwandan army, one by the Ugandan army, and one by the Kinshasa government, backed by the Zimbabwe military, he reportedly said. It includes ” embezzlement, tax fraud, extortion, kickbacks and false invoicing,” Kassem said.

With growing international pressure for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Congo, he reportedly said, the networks have adopted new tactics to maintain their economic grip. Those include using paramilitary groups and military-backed companies with civilian faces, and integrating foreign soldiers into rebel armies and local defense forces.

Kassem reiterated the panel’s call for the council to adopt economic incentives as a “peace dividend” to encourage governments to abide by the peace accords. He also encouraged such disincentives as travel bans, freezing assets, and phased cuts in foreign aid to curb the criminal exploitation of Congo’s resources.

Congo’s Okitundu urged the council to accelerate the deployment of U.N. peacekeeping troops to speed the departure of all foreign troops and stop the pillaging of Congo’s resources. Until foreign troops withdraw, it would be “a terrible precedent” to give their countries economic aid, he said.

Council members asked for more time to study the report.