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Chair of UN Panel on Congo Foreign Exploitation Defends Findings - 2002-10-26


The chairman of a U.N. appointed panel that released a study this week on the foreign exploitation of Congo resources defended his findings Friday, after African governments named in the report denied their involvement.

The U.N. report accused criminal groups linked to the armies of Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe, which supports the Congo army, of plundering Congo's vast resources of gems and minerals. It also named 29 companies and 54 individuals as being directly involved in the illegal activity.

The African governments, which are in the process of withdrawing their forces from the Congo under peace agreements, rejected what they called the insinuation that they approve of the pillaging. Rwanda's U.N. ambassador even suggested the panel of experts was manipulated by groups and persons with a political agenda.

But the chairman of the panel, Mahmoud Kassem of Egypt, stands by the findings. He said everything in the nearly 60-page report was scrupulously researched. "Nothing in this report has been put in without being corroborated, being cross-examined, having documents, having testimonies to prove it," he said.

The U.N. panel also identified scores of multinational corporations, many of them in South Africa, of abetting the exploitation by trading in the pillaged goods. Mr. Kassem said criminal groups depend on "corporate" support to extract the resources and then move them out of the country. "Without them, this kind of commerce would not be possible. And it would be very difficult for these three elite networks to make business in the way they are conducting it," he said. "So the role of these entities, or companies, or corporations are really important. We are not asking for punishing any one of them, but rather we are requesting them to change their policy."

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he would like the international community, or perhaps individual governments, to take decisive action to stop what he called "war-profiteering". "We hope there will some way of putting a ban, an embargo on exports. We've done it in other situations," he said. "And I hope we can find some way of dealing with it in the Congo, either through a direct ban or governments taking responsibility for companies that are registered in their countries to ensure that they do not behave irresponsibly."

The report of the panel was submitted to the U.N. Security Council, which asked for more time to study it.

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