U.N. looting report angers African nations

African nations rejected accusations of plunder Tuesday in an angry response to a U.N. report alleging key officials stole from the war-torn Congo’s rich mineral resources, Reuters reports.

Although fighting that once involved armies from seven African nations has diminished, the Monday report said “elite networks” are running a self-financing war economy centered on pillaging the Democratic Republic of Congo’s resources.

Government officials flatly rejected the report, which said members of the Rwandan, Ugandan, and Zimbabwean armed forces were involved in extracting gems and minerals from war-ravaged Congo, Reuters reports.

Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia sent thousands of troops to back the Kinshasa government in 1998 when Rwanda and Uganda invaded to support rebel forces.

“The story is meaningless. No one in the world, especially in the West, was happy with the assistance that we rendered to the DRC government. So they just want to tarnish our names,” the commander of Zimbabwe’s forces told his country’s official Herald newspaper.

General Vitalis Zvinavashe, who was named in the report, said opponents of Zimbabwe’s involvement in the Congo war were behind the U.N. probe.

Rwandan presidential aide Theogene Rudasingwa said the report was untrue. “It has no factual evidence to prove we are plundering Congolese resources,” he told Reuters Tuesday.

He said Rwanda was particularly disappointed by the section of the 59-page report which accused its army of making common cause with its arch-enemy Interahamwe militia to plunder Congo, Reuters reports.

Tutsi-led Rwanda has always said it invaded eastern Congo to capture the mainly ethnic Hutu Interahamwe for their role in the country’s 1994 genocide in which 800,000 people were killed, Reuters reports.

“It is the most tragic part of the report. It is cynical, absurd,” Rudasingwa reportedly said.

He reportedly said he was surprised by the charge that Rwandan soldiers were still in Congo disguised as locals, despite the army’s much-publicized pull-out which ended earlier this month.

But diplomats and analysts said that dragging the shadowy trade in diamonds, other gems and commodities into the light may force some governments at least to make a show of taking some of those named to task, Reuters reports.

World mining giants responded angrily to the report, rejecting accusations that they colluded in the plunder, Reuters reports.

The report listed 85 multinationals, most of them based in Africa but including European, U.S., and Canadian firms, and accused them of violating ethics and OECD guidelines on transparency and human rights.

The Ugandan army also rejected the findings, which point the finger at prominent figures such as President Yoweri Museveni’s brother Lieutenant General Salim Saleh, army commander major General James Kazini, Military Intelligence boss Colonel Noble Mayombo and regional affairs minister Colonel Kahinda Otafiire, Reuters reports.

“They have just recycled old information, they should not involve us in that recycling of lies,” a spokesman reportedly said.

But Andrew Mwenda, political commentator for the independent Monitor newspaper, reportedly said sanctions the report recommended might force action by donor-reliant Uganda.

“If the U.N. imposes sanctions on the individuals, Uganda will most definitely censure them, if only to maintain good international relations,” he told Reuters.

Other analysts and Western diplomats had lower expectations.

“This is a good chance for the army to clean up its act but that seems unlikely,” one Western diplomat reportedly said.

Philip Kasaija, lecturer on international relations at Makerere University, reportedly said the major Ugandan players had been building militias and forging alliances to ensure their interests remained after the army completed its pull-out.

In Kinshasa the government declined to respond to the report, but opposition politician Kabamba Mbwebwe said he was happy it exposed political forces interested in ensuring Congo’s conflicts continued.

“There are people who are not trying to find a solution to the war because it is so profitable for them,” he reportedly said.