The conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has become mainly about access by foreign armies to the country's rich mineral resources, according to a United Nations report released today in New York.
The report, which asserts that the DRC's mineral wealth is "appealing and hard to resist" in the context of lawlessness and the weakness of the central authority, was prepared by a five-member panel of experts following a request by the UN Security Council in June 2000. Formally known as the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the DRC, the group was established by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who forwarded the report to the Council.
"We were very surprised by what we learned, not only the scale of the exploitation, but the speed in which it is taking place," the panel's Chairperson, Safiatou Ba-N'Daw, said today at a press conference at UN Headquarters.
According to the experts, five key minerals - coltan, diamonds, copper, cobalt and gold - are being exploited by foreign armies in the DRC in a "systematic and systemic" way. Plundering, looting, racketeering and criminal cartels are commonplace in occupied territories. The panel warns that the cartels, with their worldwide connections and ramifications, represent the next serious security problem in the region.
The report also says the private sector plays a "vital" role in the exploitation of resources and the continuation of the war, and that a number of companies have fuelled the conflict directly by trading arms for natural resources, while others have facilitated access to funds to purchase weapons.
"Top military commanders from various countries needed and continue to need this conflict for its lucrative nature and for temporarily solving some internal problems in those countries as well as allowing access to wealth," the report states, noting that the commanders have realized that the war has the capacity to sustain itself, and therefore have created or protected criminal networks that are likely to take over fully if all foreign armies decide to leave the DRC.
Among its recommendations, the panel says the Security Council should immediately declare an embargo on the import or export of certain minerals from or to Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda until their involvement in the exploitation of the resources is "made clear and declared so" by the Council, and that any country breaking the embargo should face sanctions. The Council should also "decide that all Member States should freeze the financial assets of the rebel movements and their leaders, and ensure that their financial institutions stop doing business with banks named in the report."
The Panel recommends that the Council declare an immediate embargo on supply of weapons and all military material to the rebel groups operating in the DRC.
In other news, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative for the DRC, Kamel Morjane, met on Monday with ambassadors of the permanent members of the Security Council in Kinshasa, according to a UN spokesman. The meeting took place a day after 120 Moroccan peacekeepers were prevented from landing in Kisangani by the rebel group Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), a UN spokesman said.