Curse of gold has fuelled slaughter and rape in Congo

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The lure of gold is fuelling major human rights atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Human Rights Watch says in a report published today.

The lure of gold is fuelling major human rights atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Human Rights Watch says in a report published today.

Regional warlords and international companies are among those benefiting from access to gold-rich areas while local people suffer ethnic slaughter, torture and rape. "Rather than bringing prosperity to the people of north-eastern Congo, gold has been a curse to those who have the misfortune to live there," the New York-based group said.

Human Rights Watch alleges that co-operation between one leading gold mining company, AngloGold Ashanti, and the murderous Nationalist and Integrationist Front (FNI) has provided "meaningful financial aid and logistical support" to the FNI leaders, a group responsible for some of the bloodiest atrocities in the war-torn region.

The report into the investigation by Human Right Watch claims that AngloGold's links with the FNI have helped the company access the gold reserves around the rebel-dominated town of Mongbwalu.

It is here that the Hema and Lendu ethnic groups fought for control of the mines for more than two years, costing the lives of at least two thousand civilians.

The local population, still in the grips of conflict, is at the mercy of the armed militia, the report says.

"We are cursed because of our gold," one miner told HRW. "All we do is suffer. There is no benefit to us."

AngloGold Ashanti denies there is a "working or other relationship with the FNI" but admits it has on one occasion yielded to militia extortion in Mongbwalu.

In a statement, the company yesterday said this action was against its principles: "That there was a breach of this principle in this instance, in that company employees yielded to the militia group FNI's act of extortion is regretted," it said. "As soon as it came to our attention, we publicly acknowledged it, condemned it and said it would not happen again."

"As a company committed to corporate social responsibility, AngloGold Ashanti should have waited until it could work in Mongbwalu without having to interact with abusive warlords,"HRW Congo researcher, Anneke Van Woudenberg, wrote in the report. "Congo desperately needs business investment to help rebuild the country, but such business engagement must not provide any support to armed groups responsible for crimes against humanity."

The area around Mongbwalu, 30 miles north-west of Bunia, capital of the Ituri province, is still firmly in the power of the FNI and there is little indication the situation will change soon.

Since war ended in 2003, the Kinshasa government has failed to establish control of the province where self-styled president of the FNI, Floribert Njabu, is fully aware of his own power. "The government is never going to come to Mongbwalu," he told HRW. "I am the one who gave [AngloGold] Ashanti permission to come. I am the boss of Mongbwalu. If I want to chase them away, I will."

HRW tracked millions of pounds worth of "tainted" gold which was funnelled out of the country with the aid of local militia during the war, most of it ending up in Switzerland.

The report reveals how a Swiss company, Metalor Technologies, bought the gold from Uganda. In a statement to Human Rights Watch, the company said it had believed the gold "was of legal origin". It has vowed to never purchase gold from Uganda again, a move HRW applauds.