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Thursday, 22 March, 2001, 11:30 GMT
Rwanda denies using forced labour
Archive photo of Rwandan prisoners
Rwanda is said to be profiting from its prisoners
Rwanda has angrily rejected reports that it is using its prisoners as forced labour in mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The head of the Catholic news agency, Misna, Father Julio Albanese told the BBC that priests had seen 1,500 Rwandan prisoners working under armed guard at a columbite-tantalite mine in Numbi in the east of the country.

He said the prisoners who were wearing the distinctive pink garb of the Rwandan prison system had been working at that mine since January.

There have been reports of prisoners working at four other mines in a region under the control of Rwandan forces since late last year.

However Rwandan officials said this was completely untrue.

They said the crimes against humanity committed by Rwandan prisoners ruled out freeing them, and that all the prisoners were accounted for and believed to be still in jail.

War profits

Correspondents say Rwanda is believed to have funded its campaign in DR Congo through mining.

Columbite-tantalite - or col-tan - is a rare mineral which is now a crucial ingredient in the manufacture of mobile phones and other hi-tech goods.

Its price has risen five-fold in the past three years and it has been blamed for fanning the conflict in Congo, which has some of the richest col-tan deposits in the world.

Rwanda is backing the rebels in a war against the Kinshasa government that has been going on since 1998.

Our correspondent in Kigali says that the Catholic Church in South Kivu is renowned for its opposition to Rwanda.

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See also:

19 Oct 00 | Africa
Rwanda's healing process
17 Jul 00 | Africa
Rwanda counts its dead
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