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March 10, 2010

Group Says DRC Mines Falling Into New Corrupt Hands

Advocacy group Global Witness says that former rebels now integrated into the Congolese army have asserted "mafia-style" control over lucrative mining sites. The rich mineral resources of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have long helped fuel conflicts in the lawless area.

Global Witness, which investigates the illicit use of natural resources, says that recent field research in the eastern DRC has revealed that a U.N.-backed push to remove Rwandan Hutu FDLR (Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda) rebels has not created a better situation for civilians working in the mines.

Anne Dunnebacke, a Global Witness campaigner on DRC, said that a former Tutsi rebel group now integrated into the national army has begun enriching itself from the mineral wealth.

"Following military operations last year to displace FDLR militia from mining areas, we found that brigades of the national army have now taken over the extortion rackets in the most lucrative mines, and many of these brigades are commanded by elements of the former CNDP rebel group, who in large parts are maintaining their command structures, and their political agendas to some extent," she said.

The DRC contains massive deposits of tin ore as well as coltan, which is used to make a metal that is found in many electronic devices.

Dunnebacke said that during her trip to the DRC last month she found that civilians were subjected "at gunpoint" to heavy taxation from the government troops. Those who refused to pay up could be "whipped, or worse."

The CNDP rebels were led by Tutsi warlord Laurent Nkunda. The Rwandan government  is believed to have supported Nkunda's rebels to fight the presence of the Rwandan Hutu rebel FDLR group, most of whom fled expected retaliation following the end of the Rwandan 1994 genocide of the Tutsi.

But Rwandan troops arrested Nkunda early last year after Rwandan and Congolese forces began working together to uproot the FDLR. Nkunda was put under house arrest in Kigali, and the Tutsi rebels were integrated into the official Congolese army.

Global Witness says that these former rebels are in some areas of North Kivu now operating their own "parallel administration," with some rebel commanders raking in at least "tens of thousands of dollars" a month from its local extortion schemes.

Dunnebacke says the enrichment of these notorious rebels bodes poorly for the future stabilization of the region. "I think it's a significant risk to have a former rebel group that has a history of re-arming and going back to war when they don't get what they want to be in control of such lucrative mines - illegally in control of them," she said.

Global Witness is calling for the United Nations Security Council to expand the mandate of its peacekeeping mission there, known as MONUC, to include the demilitarization of the mineral industry.

When contacted, MONUC admitted that no "control mechanism" existed to ensure that mines pushed out of the hands of the FDLR do not fall into equally corrupt hands within the Congolese army.

MONUC chief analyst Johan Peleman tells VOA that plans are currently underway with Kinshasa to build five regional regulatory centers staffed with mining police, but that for now deterrents such as spot checks along transport routes are all that are in place.

"Currently as a priority is these operations against the FDLR that are still ongoing, so the Congolese military's deployment is in line with that - in holding main population centers, and then to free areas from FDLR presence," he said.

Former CNDP leader Nkunda, who is accused of war crimes, has gone to court to challenge his detention in Rwanda.