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Wednesday, 26 September, 2001, 16:09 GMT 17:09 UK
Congo pays the price for war
Congo rebel soldiers
Natural resources are being used to fund all sides fighting the war
by BBC World Business Report's Sally Hardcastle

A United Nations team is investigating how parties involved in civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo have plundered the country's natural resources.

The UN panel, which arrived in the capital Kinshasa on Monday, plans to update a report published in April which argued that economic pillaging has fuelled the involvement of some nations in the conflict.

Rwanda and Uganda were singled out for criticism.

Both nations were critical of the report, as was Britain, as all felt the report was one-sided and lenient on the involvement of Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia.

The chairman of the UN panel, Mahmoud Kassem, said there was further work to be done in examining links between the conflict and exploitation of the region's resources.

He also felt that there were new developments, some positive, which needed to be included in a new version.

The updated report is scheduled for release in October.

Naming and shaming the companies involved is said to be high on the panel's agenda.

Rich in resources

The country's natural resources include nearly half of Africa's and 6% of the world's tropical rainforest.

Patrick Smith, editor of news magazine Africa Confidential, says the region holds many riches that are being used up to fund the war.

"That includes the forests, that includes the mineral resources, the cobalt, the copper and more recently the coltan, the diamonds, indeed the horticulture. Anything that rebel groups, armed groups from outside appear to be using as a means to finance their rebellion."

The resources are being exploited by militias backed by various nearby nations.

Conflict timber?

Patrick Allyen of the environmental charity Global Witness wants wood from war zones boycotted.

"The United Nations expert panel on DRC raised the issue of perhaps creating a category of conflict timber which we would wholeheartedly support," he said.

"Why should the hardwood doorframe, window frame, whatever, that we buy in the local DIY store, why should we be allowed to do that and fund somebody else's conflict - fund the amputation of children's arms and legs, I mean that is what it comes down to in the end."

Robin Lock is curator of the Eden project, a recreation of a rainforest in the West of England and has worked in rain forests around the world.

Mr Lock is not against the controlled harvesting of wood, but insists the indiscriminate destruction of the forests can contribute to global warming.

"All the flooding and all the droughts have a reason and although proving the reason is quite difficult and scientists still have problems with proving it, you can just look around and say there is a problem," he said.

Naming and shaming

It is estimated that in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 2.5 million people have died in a conflict over territory during the past three years

The scientific argument plus the awful statistics of war persuade Patrick Smith of Africa Confidential that commercial outlets for the timber can be restricted through what he calls a 'naming and shaming form of diplomacy'.

He believes it should be an important objective to publicly identify those companies who go into war zones and help in the plunder.

See also:

03 Sep 01 | Africa
Annan meeting rebels in Kisangani
23 Aug 01 | Africa
Congo talks deadlocked
02 Aug 01 | Africa
Fighting mars Congo anniversary
07 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Democratic Republic of Congo
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