U.N. says the plunder of Congo’s riches continues

Declaring that the plunder of Congo’s riches “continues unabated,” a U.N.-appointed panel called for a moratorium on the purchase of diamonds, gold, and other resources from areas controlled by foreign forces or rebel groups, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

The exploitation involves government officials, rebels and others who are using the 2 1/2-year civil war “to amass as much wealth as possible,” the panel said.

Congo’s civil war broke out in August 1998 when Rwanda, Uganda, and later Burundi backed Congolese rebels seeking to oust then-President Laurent Kabila. Troops from Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola backed the Congolese government.

A report last April urged the council to impose an arms and trade embargo on Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, accusing them of stealing Congo’s wealth. But it did not call for any action against the nations supporting Congo’s government in the civil war.

The new report was more cautious about sanctions, saying there were many indications that Congo’s President Joseph Kabila, who succeeded his assassinated father in January, “is genuinely interested in bringing about positive changes in the country,” the AP reported. Instead, it recommended a moratorium on the purchase and importation of such key products as diamonds, gold, copper, and timber from areas in Congo where foreign troops are present, or which are under rebel control.

During the moratorium, the panel said, countries with any involvement in the conflict should pass laws to prosecute anyone violating the ban.

The five-member panel, headed by Ambassador Mahmoud Kassem of Egypt, also recommended that all concessions, commercial agreements and contracts signed by Laurent Kabila from 1997 to 2001, and those signed subsequently in rebel-held areas, “be reviewed and revised,” the AP reported.

The panel concluded that there is a link between the continuation of the fighting and the exploitation of resources in the case of Uganda and Rwandan rebels. It indicated that Rwanda was using security concerns as a pretext to maintain a large military presence in eastern Congo, “which also facilitates continuing exploitation of Congolese resources,” the AP reported.

The new report called Zimbabwe “the most active” of Congo’s allies in exploiting its natural resources, having been granted mining concessions and marketing rights for a host of resources.

While the government of Zimbabwe “views these exploitation activities as legitimate commercial ties” with a neighbor it has helped military, the panel said, the Zimbabwean army and high officials in the Congolese government are the only ones benefiting and “it is once more the Congolese people who are the losers,” the AP reported. The five-member panel said Namibia’s commercial interests in Congo were “modest,” reflecting its limited military presence. Angola’s commercial interests were not a factor in its continued military presence in Congo, the panel said.