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Tuesday, 20 November, 2001, 15:31 GMT
UN condemns Congo 'exploitation'
Congo rebel soldiers
Natural resources are being used to fund all sides fighting the war
The huge natural resources of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are being looted wholesale by both government allies and opponents, and the state is powerless - and sometimes unwilling - to stop them.

That is the conclusion of a United Nations Panel of Experts established to report on whether persistent allegations that the war in the DRC has become both self-financing and self-sustaining.


This rampant exploitation will continue

Mahmoud Kassem
Egyptian ambassador
The answer, according to the panel led by Egyptian ambassador Mahmoud Kassem, is that it has.

Gold, timber, diamonds, cobalt, copper, and the rare metal coltan - hugely valuable because it is needed to make a variety of electronic goods such as mobile phones - are all being stripped from the DRC, the panel says.

Mr Kassem called for a moratorium on all exports of these materials from the Congo, and said that even government-approved contracts should be reviewed by the UN Security Council.

"Unless and until something can be done to rebuild the capacity of the State to make it strong and capable enough to control its immense territory, this rampant exploitation will continue," he said.

Self-interest

The panel said that most of the armed forces present in the Congo had entered for non-financial reasons.

Zimbabweans, Namibians and Angolans came at the invitation of the government; Rwanda and Uganda supported the rebels to secure their borders.

But over time, the motivation changed.

The desire to "amass as much wealth as possible" became "the primary motive" for remaining and keeping the fighting going.

"This holds true for both government allies as well as rebel supporters," the panel's 38-page report said.

While a ceasefire has been generally honoured since April, enough scattered fighting continues to allow a foreign presence to appear justified.

Flawed legality

The panel, Mr Kassem said, had originally tried to find out whether exploitation was legal or illegal.

But it soon emerged that there was little difference. Even "legal" contractors were engaged in widespread illicit trafficking.

Both Rwanda and Uganda had already been heavily criticised in the first draft, delivered in April, with Ugandan government officials accused of profiting from gold smuggling, and Rwandans of making money from coltan.

But this draft goes into detail concerning Zimbabwe's involvement.

The southern African country's economy has been driven into the ground in recent years, partly because of the heavy burden of financing its presence in the DRC.

But the report claims that Zimbabwean government and army officials are profiting hugely from carrying off the country's riches.

And foreign companies are making large sums by abetting the trade.

Israeli firms are moving into the diamond market, now that South Africa's De Beers has left, the report said, while Belgian ports are proving the main conduit for coltan exports.

See also:

26 Sep 01 | Business
Congo pays the price for war
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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