The government in Congo Kinshasa says it has no information to substantiate accusations that some senior commanders of Congo's army are working alongside ethnic Hutu militias in the exploitation of minerals in eastern Congo. The allegation was made earlier this week by London-based Global Witness organization, which tracks links between conflicts and mineral wealth in poor countries. VOA Correspondent Alicia Ryu has details from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.
In its latest report, Global Witness said its researchers have uncovered substantial evidence that rebels of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Rwanda, known by its French initials FDLR, are keeping their movement well-funded and supplied through profits generated from huge mining operations in rebel-controlled areas of South Kivu.
Global Witness further alleged that Congolese forces sent to South Kivu to dislodge and disarm the rebels are doing nothing to stop the illegal mining because some units and their commanders are operating their own mining concessions in the same area.
Congolese foreign ministry spokesman Jean-Claude Kamanga tells VOA the government is not aware of any wrongdoings by its forces in eastern Congo. "I do not think it is the real situation. The government is doing all that is possible to make the rebels go back to their country. If we had this kind of information, the government will do its best toward solving (the problem)."
The provinces are rich in gold and cassiterite, the principle ore in tin. Human rights groups, including Global Witness, have long complained that money earned from mining and trading these natural resources was fueling the conflict there.
The FDLR, the Congolese army, and other groups in eastern Congo, have been accused of committing gross human rights abuses against the civilian population, including mass rapes and murders.
Carina Tertsakian, Global Witness' lead campaigner on Congo, argues the government in Kinshasa, as well as the international community, have known for years that the war for control of North and South Kivu by different armed groups, including the national army, is partly a fight for ownership of gold and cassiterite mines.
"The situation has been going on for quite a long time. But the problem is the issue has not been tackled and nobody has taken any action to put a stop to it. Even some of the international mediators, facilitators and others have been very, very reluctant to address explicitly this issue of natural resource exploitation. It is seen as very sensitive because some of the people implicated are at a high-level and therefore, this issue has been more or less avoided," she said.
Tertsakian says her group is concerned that international efforts to mediate a peace agreement between eastern Congo's warring factions will fail unless the economic base fueling the conflict is dismantled first. "Certainly when you see the way these groups have established a pretty solid economic bases and sources of financing, you realize there is very little incentive to leave and even less to disarm or allow their troops to be demobilized," she said.
Late last month, a fragile cease-fire signed in January between the government and ethnic Tutsi rebels in North Kivu province nearly collapsed after the two sides traded mortars and machine-gun fire for several hours.
The leader of the rebel group in North Kivu, Laurent Nkunda, took up arms against the government in 2006, claiming to fight for minority ethnic Tutsis in eastern Congo and their protection from ethnic Hutus responsible for carrying out genocide against Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994.
Many of those ethnic Hutus are believed to be members of the FDLR.