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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 March, 2003, 12:23 GMT
Resource fight in north-east Congo
By Jeremy Scott-Joynt
BBC News Online business reporter

A rebel soldier with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher
Both sides are using local proxies to keep control
Hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing Ugandan and Rwandan troop movements in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) as both countries try to make sure the region's valuable resources stay under their control, BBC News Online has learnt.

Eyewitness reports say that in the wake of Uganda's seizure of the key town of Bunia a week ago, Rwandan forces are massing in and around Goma on the DR Congo-Rwanda border and may be trying to retake the town - despite having promised that all Rwandan armed forces have left the DR Congo.

At stake is control of the rich mineral resources of Ituri province, of which Bunia forms a part.

Both sides want to control the oil, gold and diamonds produced there, even after the peace deal currently being worked on takes effect.

The local population is caught in the middle, eyewitnesses say, not least because each side's proxy forces are ratcheting up ethnic tensions between the Lenda and Hema people of the area.

Proxy fight

The trouble in Ituri throws into sharp relief allegations made in a United Nations Security Council report published in October last year.

It found that Uganda was training local militias to fill the gap its troops will leave once they head home so as to keep hold of Ituri's resources.

"As UPDF (the Ugandan People's Defence Forces) continue to arm local groups, only less conspicuously than before, the departure of Ugandan armed forces is unlikely to alter economic activities by those powerful individuals in the north-eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo," the report said.

Rwanda, too, was placing proxies in key positions, the report said, noting that quasi-governmental firms were getting bosses from the Rwandan capital Kigali to replace Congolese officials, thus ensuring that Kigali retains control.

Rwanda was also accused of arming the RCD-Goma rebel group.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame and DRC President Joseph Kabila signing the peace deal
The peace deal has not stopped the jockeying for resources

Rwanda denies the report's charges.

"Up to now we have been meeting the UN inspectors and they have not been able to give us evidence of what is in the report," Rwandan Commerce Minister Dr Alexandre Lyambabaje told BBC News Online in February.

"Rwanda withdrew the troops from DRC... and if there is support to different companies it is not from Rwandan troops."

UK involvement

As well as implicating both Rwanda and Uganda, though, the UN report suggests as many as 85 multinational companies including a number of iconic UK firms are profiting from the war in the DR Congo.

They, and their governments, have until 31 March to comment on the allegations.

But few observers believe the comments will expand much on existing responses, and will simply extend the process even further without action being taken to follow-up the allegations.

The UK Government has already suggested in a parliamentary answer that the UN's expert panel contained "significant inaccuracies" and made "some allegations on which there is no evidence".

'Ungovernable'

A man carries food aid back from a distribution centre in the eastern DRC
Millions have been displaced from their homes
For both sides, resource exploitation is not the only reason for wanting to keep a grip on Ituri.

The two countries have border problems of their own which are being fought out via proxy in the DR Congo, experts say, but the key aim was keeping a grip on the profits gained from controlling Ituri.

Uganda retook Bunia at a cost, reports say, of hundreds of lives after a split in the UPC - the splinter group running the town - put Thomas Lubanga, allied with Rwandan's proxy, the RCD-Goma, in charge.

For Rwanda, some experts believe the state of the peace talks makes entrenching its position in north-eastern DR Congo a priority.

Both Western observers and local eyewitnesses have told BBC News Online that Rwanda may be effectively making the eastern DRC increasingly ungovernable, to counter the fact that the new transitional government allots little influence to RCD-Goma.




SEE ALSO:
Clash overshadows Congo deal
07 Mar 03  |  Africa
Rwanda denies DRC plundering
18 Feb 03  |  Business
Congo's finance minister resigns
18 Feb 03  |  Africa
DR Congo plunder denied
22 Oct 02  |  Africa
Q&A: Plunder in Congo
21 Oct 02  |  Business
Timeline: Democratic Republic of Congo
08 Mar 03  |  Country profiles


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