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Congo Investigates UN Driver for Trafficking Minerals

Men stand around a bag filled with Cassiterite, a tin product, on the outskirts of Walikale, Congo (2010 file photo)

Congolese authorities are investigating a United Nations driver accused of trying to illegally export minerals. The U.N. mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo says it is cooperating with authorities and launching its own internal investigation.

Officials in Congo's eastern North Kivu province say they stopped the driver, Julien Mukala, on Sunday night as he tried to cross the border into Rwanda with 1,200 kilograms of the tin oxide mineral cassiterite, hidden in a U.N. jeep.

Congolese prosecutors say they opened preliminary investigations in the provincial capital, Goma, on Monday. They say Mukala says the 24 bags of minerals were put in the jeep by someone else.

Mukala is a local staffer of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, known by its acronym MONUSCO.

MONUSCO spokesman Madnodje Mounoubai says the driver did not have a valid explanation for having a U.N. vehicle in his possession at that hour of the night. He says the U.N. mission works to prevent trafficking in the DRC and will not tolerate this kind of activity. He says they are cooperating with Congolese authorities but have also opened an internal investigation of what appears to be a breach of U.N. ethics and regulations.

The driver is being held along with a suspected accomplice who is not employed by the U.N. mission. Formal charges have not been filed.

U.N. vehicles are not routinely inspected at border crossings, according to local press reports.

Eastern Congo is rich in copper, cobalt, cassiterite and other important minerals. The government and various rebel and militia groups have fought for control of the mines and the money they produce since the mid-1990s.

The conflict has brought much misery to the local population, which is often caught up in the violence. Locals have complained in the past that the U.N. mission does not do enough to protect them.