UN investigators accuse factions of plundering Congo

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The Independent Online

Thew arring parties in the Democratic Republic of Congo are deliberately prolonging the three-year conflict to plunder gold, diamonds, timber and coltan, United Nations investigators allege.

Zimbabwe, which is allied with the government, and Rwanda and Uganda, who both back rebels, were the targets of stinging criticism in a report submitted to the UN Security Council yesterday. It detailed how hawkish soldiers, government cronies and greedy businessmen were "opportunistically making use of the current situation to amass as much wealth as possible".

The protagonists first sent troops to the former Zaire in 1998 for political or security reasons, the report said. Since then, however, greed and "extracting the maximum commercial and material benefits" had become the motives of all sides. And in the meantime up to 1.5 million people had died, mostly from disease and famine, because of the conflict.

A first report by the UN Panel of Experts was published in April. It detailed massive illegal exploitation of diamonds, gold and coltan, a hi-tech ore used in mobile phones and satellites. Yesterday's 32-page addendum confirmed the original thrust, stating for example how a gold mine controlled by the Ugandan army had an estimated output of $10,000 (about £7,200) a day, or how Rwandan coltan exports almost tripled between 1998 and 2000.

But the investigators also exposed the shady gains made by business cronies and military officers under Zimbabwe's President, Robert Mugabe, during their adventure in Congo.

The Zimbabwean army came to the rescue of Congo's President, Laurent Kabila, in 1998 when he was in danger of being overrun by the Rwandan and Ugandan-backed RCD rebels. Mr Mugabe received lucrative concessions in return.

Now the Zimbabwean army controlled enormous diamond interests in Congo. According to investigators, one 25-year concession had a production potential of "over several billion dollars".

As Zimbabwe's economy plunged further into crisis, Congo offered an attractive source of patronage, the report said. And as its ventures became more profitable "it may be tempted to retain a sizeable military presence".

The report also detailed how the Israeli company IDI made a secret $20m (£14.5m) diamonds-for-guns deal with Kabila in August last year, although the arrangement later collapsed. Belgium remains an "important destination" for "blood diamonds" because of lax rules in other countries.

The report recommended a temporary ban on the export of precious minerals, timber and coffee from rebel-controlled areas in Congo. Contracts signed by Kabila, who was shot dead in January, should be renegotiated under the auspices of a "special body" to be created by the UN Security Council.

¿ The Supreme Court of Zimbabwe dismissed subversion charges by the government against Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the country's main opposition party. It said allegations that he incited an overthrow of the government violated his constitutional right to a fair trial. A conviction would have barred Mr Tsvangirai from running against Mr Mugabe in next year's presidential elections