Authorities in Congo have arrested six foreigners, including two Ugandans and a Kenyan, for the slaying of a prominent gold trader in northeast Congo. As Nick Wadhams reports from our East Africa bureau in Nairobi, the murder is the latest in a string of violent attacks in the turbulent region.
The businessman, Kisoni Kambale, was shot dead in his office in the eastern city of Butembo on Monday and the six were arrested hours later.
The motive for the slaying is not known. But Kambale is believed to have run one of the biggest gold trading operations in the region, and had been accused by the U.N. Security Council of trading with local rebels.
Kambale is the latest prominent figure to be killed in and around Butembo, a commercial center of nearly 80,000 people in eastern Congo's North Kivu province. In May, the head of Congo's intelligence agency was shot twice in the head at his home, and a Belgian architect was stabbed to death.
Despite the presence of thousands of peacekeepers there, the United Nations says the region has seen a spike in violence in recent weeks, which includes village raids and summary executions, some of them believed to be carried out by Congolese forces.
The spokesman for the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo, Kemal Saiki, says officials are baffled by the slayings and the rise in tension. But North Kivu has long been one of the most unstable areas of Congo. It is home to numerous rebels and militias, who have a history of terrorizing civilians and clashing amongst themselves.
"All of northeast Congo, the DRC, is a place where security is not the best you can get. And there is a lot of banditry and you have a lot of armed groups and it's very difficult to find out what are the real motivations," he said. "There are some who have political so-called motivations or it could be driven by ethnicity, others are simply criminal enterprises. But you also have the Congolese armed forces themselves, who are not a paragon of stability. That makes for a situation where instability and insecurity is rife, particularly in the last few weeks it has increased tensions in North Kivu."
The murdered gold trader, Kambale, has a shadowy past of his own. The U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions on him three months ago for allegedly buying gold from rebels in Congo and selling it to Uganda. He was also known to own a small airline that allegedly transported weapons for rebel groups in the area.
In a 2005 report, the U.S.-based rights group Human Rights Watch quoted locals in Butemo as saying that Kambale could have traded hundreds of thousands of dollars in gold each month.
The U.N. peacekeeping spokesman says some officials speculate that rebels with Uganda's Allied Democratic Front may be responsible for the recent violence.
The ADF group, which frequently crosses into eastern Congo, has engaged in several large battles with Ugandan troops recently. The United States lists the ADF as a terrorist organization. In April, the U.S. Embassy warned American citizens to be cautious about traveling in the region because of the rebel activity.
The U.N. refugee agency estimates that more than 150,000 Congolese have fled their homes in North Kivu since January because of rising instability, bringing the total number of people who are displaced in North Kivu to some 600,000.