By Edith LedererAssociated Press
April 16, 2001
A U.N.-appointed panel investigating the illegal plundering of Congo's resources called Monday for an immediate temporary embargo on trade in diamonds, gold, timber, and minerals used in high-tech equipment with Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi.
In a report to the Security Council, the five-member panel accused top military commanders in the three countries of helping to systematically exploit Congo's resources along with a number of companies, individuals and a growing international network of criminal cartels.The illegal exploitation of Congo's wealth, it said, is fueling the country's 2 1/2-year civil war.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni ''are on the verge of becoming the godfathers of the illegal exploitation of natural resources and the continuation of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,'' it said. The presidents have knowledge of the exploitation and have failed to stop it, the report said. ''They have indirectly given criminal cartels a unique opportunity to organize and operate in this fragile and sensitive region.''
The report said it would make no allegations about the personal involvement of the countries' presidents until further investigation is carried out.
The report called on the governments of Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi to pay compensation to companies whose properties and natural resources were confiscated or taken between 1998 and 2000, and to farmers and religious groups whose crops and land were looted or taken by their armed forces.
The five-member panel also urged the 189 U.N. member states to immediately freeze the financial assets of all Congolese rebel movements and their leaders. It called for an immediate arms embargo on rebel groups operating in the Congo and urged the council to consider extending the embargo to countries that support them.
The panel said the Security Council should urge all countries to freeze the assets of companies and individuals that continue to exploit Congo's natural resources and to ensure that public and private financial institutions stop doing business with banks in Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda allegedly involved in illegal Congo dealings.
It also recommended that the council consider international prosecution of individuals, companies and government officials ''whose economic and financial activities directly or indirectly harm powerless people and weak economies.''
The panel report is one of several investigations commissioned by the Security Council to look into the role that diamonds and other natural resources are playing in fueling Africa's brutal wars.
Rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda took up arms to topple former Congolese President Laurent Kabila in August 1998. Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola joined the fight in support of Kabila. A 1999 cease-fire signed by most combatants was never fully implemented, but the search for peace gained momentum following Kabila's assassination in January and the succession of his son, Joseph, to the presidency.
Previous reports on the illegal diamond-for-gun trade in Angola and Sierra Leone have led to widespread calls for tighter export controls on diamonds and weapons.
The Security Council has imposed diamond and arms embargoes on rebels in Angola and Sierra Leone in a bid to strangle their abilities to make war. No such sanctions exist on Congo or its rebel groups, but under France's sponsorship, the council authorized the panel to investigate reports that the warring sides were making money off the conflict.
The panel's report concluded that the Congo conflict ''has become mainly about access, control and trade of five key mineral resources: coltan, diamonds, copper, cobalt and gold.'' Coltan is used in the production of power-storing components for high-tech gear ranging from nuclear reactors to cell phones to PlayStations.
The embargo against Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi called for by the panel includes coltan, niobium, pyrochlore, cassiterite, timber, gold and diamonds. The panel said it should remain until the three countries' involvement in exploiting Congo's resources ''is made clear and declared so by the Security Council.''
The countries backing Kabila's government argued they shouldn't be investigated for alleged plundering since they are in the country at the request of the government. They say any illegal activity is being carried out by the ''uninvited aggressors'' _ Rwanda and Uganda.
The report said the Rwandan and Ugandan economies had benefited financially from the conflict to varying extents, ''unlike those of Angola and Namibia.'' It said Zimbabwe was ''a special case'' because some Zimbabwe companies received concessions.
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