U.N. pushes for embargo against Congo foes

A U.N.-appointed panel investigating the plundering of resources in Congo urged the Security Council Monday to punish Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi by halting all their trade in diamonds, gold, timber and minerals, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

It accused the Rwandan and Ugandan presidents of complicity in the exploitation of the central African nation’s wealth, but said it would make no allegations about their personal involvement until further investigation is carried out.

 

In a report to the Security Council, the panel said the theft of Congo’s natural riches was fueling the 2 1/2-year civil war, which had turned into a lucrative business venture for all the combatants – to the point where enemies sometimes joined forces to make money.

 

“All the belligerents in one way or another are benefiting from the conflict,” panel chairman Safiatou Ba-N’Daw, a former Ivory Coast energy minister, told a news conference launching the report, the AP reported. “The only losers are the Congolese people.”

 

Rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda took up arms to topple former Congolese President Laurent Kabila in August 1998. Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola joined the fight in support of Kabila.

 

A 1999 cease-fire was never fully implemented, but the search for peace gained momentum following Kabila’s assassination in January and the succession of his son, Joseph, to the presidency.

 

In an effort to help end the war, the panel called for trade sanctions against Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi until the council declares that their exploitation of Congo’s resources has stopped, the AP reported. Any country breaking this embargo should face sanctions, it said.

 

It also urged Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi to pay compensation to farmers, religious groups and companies whose crops, land and resources were confiscated or taken between 1998 and 2000, the AP reported.

 

The U.N. missions of the three countries had no immediate comment on the report.

Top military commanders in the three countries are helping to systematically exploit Congo’s resources along with companies, individuals and a growing international network of criminal cartels, the panel said.

 

Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni “are on the verge of becoming the godfathers of the illegal exploitation of natural resources and the continuation of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” it said. “They have indirectly given criminal cartels a unique opportunity to organize and operate in this fragile and sensitive region,” the panel said.

 

The Security Council has imposed diamond and arms embargoes on rebels in Angola and Sierra Leone in a bid to strangle their abilities to make war, but no such sanctions exist on Congo or its rebel groups.

 

The panel demanded an immediate arms embargo against rebel groups operating in Congo and the freezing of their assets.

 

It also said the council should urge all countries to freeze the assets of companies and individuals that continue to exploit Congo’s natural resources.

The panel’s report, as reported by the AP, said that the Congo conflict “has become mainly about access, control and trade of five key mineral resources: coltan, diamonds, copper, cobalt and gold,” the AP reported. Coltan is used in the production of power-storing components for high-tech gear ranging from nuclear reactors to cell phones to PlayStations.