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Rights Groups Call for Discussion of Congo War Business Probe

International and Congolese rights groups called on authorities in Kinshasa Tuesday to discuss and adopt recommendations made by a parliamentary probe into shady business deals struck during Congo's wars. The investigation, which was completed last year but has not been made public, calls for dozens of contracts to be canceled or renegotiated.

The Lutundula Commission investigating business deals made during Congo's two wars completed its report in the middle of last year.

According to peace deals that ended Congo's last five-year war, the findings of the panel of Congolese parliamentarians were to be discussed by parliament and acted upon, leading to the cancellation or renegotiation of murky contracts and the arrests of those responsible.

But rights groups say investigators were threatened and their findings hushed up by senior civilian and military figures implicated in the report, which also says the transitional government has exacerbated, rather than controlled, the pillaging.

The groups, which include Human Rights Watch, International Crisis Group, and Global Witness, urged authorities to act on the report's recommendations immediately.

Congo's 1996-1997 war led to the ousting of veteran dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. Once in power, the rebels turned on each other, sparking a five-year war that degenerated into plunder of Congo's enormous gold, diamond, copper and timber resources.

The last war has killed about four million people, mostly from hunger and disease. But the vast African country is due to hold its first independent elections by the middle of this year. The polls are intended to be a fresh start for a country that has known little but dictatorship, war, and chaos since independence from its former colonial power, Belgium.

Congo is being run by a transitional government, which brought together President Joseph Kabila's government, former rebels, and the unarmed opposition.

But the human rights organizations said Congo's parliament must scrutinize the commission's findings and hold those responsible to account before the elections, which may be delayed.