The United Nations has confirmed that it is still investigating charges of weapons and gold smuggling by U.N. peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Global watchdog groups say conflict, corrupt officials and porous borders make it easy for just about anyone to loot Congolese resources. Phuong Tran has more from VOA's West and Central Africa Bureau in Dakar.

Lobbyists with the New York based watchdog group, Human Rights Watch, said they first filed the complaint with the United Nations of smuggling by its peacekeepers in the resource-rich eastern Ituri district of Democratic Republic of Congo more than one year ago.

The spokesman of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, Kemal Saiki, says when his office learned of the accusations in late 2005, it immediately referred the case to U.N. investigators. He says the U.N.'s office of internal investigation is in charge of the investigation.

Carina Tertsakian with the London-based watchdog group, Global Witness, says east Congo was one of the most violent and bloody battlegrounds of inter-ethnic fighting during the country's civil wars.

Even though war officially ended with a peace agreement in 2002, U.N. efforts to disarm still roaming militia groups in this region have largely been unsuccessful.

Tertsakian says the remote, lawless and, at times, still violent east has made it an easy target for smuggling.

"The transport, roads are practically non existent. There is much less control. The areas are difficult to access, and so people can do more or less whatever they like," said Tertsakian. "The government has not been controlling that area."

Human Rights Watch has said Pakistani peacekeeping forces - which form the largest group in the U..N. mission - were smuggling gold, as well as trading weapons with local militia groups in the eastern town of Mongwalu.

But U.N. investigators will not comment until their inquiry is complete, which they say will be within three weeks.

The Congo peacekeeping mission is the United Nation's largest, with more than 17,000 troops from some 50 countries. Earlier this month, the U.N. Security Council extended the mission mandate through the end of the year.