23 May 2007
A BBC investigation has revealed that Pakistani Peacekeepers in DR Congo were involved in illegal gold trafficking. The report aired on BBC radio added that some of the peacekeepers actually passed on confiscated weapons back to rebels in exchange for gold. The peacekeepers were sent there in the first place to disarm rival militia groups that have been fighting each other for the control of illegal gold mines. According to the report, an eyewitness testified observing a transaction between a Pakistani officer and notorious militia leaders.
These accusations date back to 2005 and the alleged offences were committed in the North Eastern Congolese town of Mongbwalu. Congolese soldiers (possibly allied to the suspected Pakistanis) blocked the District Commissioner of Ituri from inspecting a an aircraft suspected of transporting ‘blood gold’. Human Rights Watch eventually alerted the UN about the gold trafficking and the UN set up an internal inquiry. It was reported that the investigators even uncovered more serious violations by the Pakistani peacekeepers, particularly those under the control of one major Zanfar. For unexplained reasons, the findings of the commission were “buried” and apparently no punitive action has been taken against the erring soldiers (all had since returned to Pakistan after their six months rotation).
Pakistan contributes the bulk of the UN peacekeepers in Congo (about 10,000 soldiers) and it is suspected that the UN authorities would prefer to let the matter die rather than stir problems with a major partner in peacekeeping. According to the head of the UN in Congo, Ambassador William Swing, the peacekeepers have demobilized more than 20,000 men and destroyed caches of arms. He denied reports that some of the peacekeepers were trading returned arms for gold. Observers generally agree that the UN peacekeepers have done a good job to reduce the level of violence in Eastern Congo even if a few of their men are engaged in criminal activities.
D.R Congo has the misfortune of being very rich in natural resources and at the same time possessing very weak state institutions. She has been eyed by nations near and far. At the peak of the recent civil war, about six African countries sent in armies to help different factions and more importantly help themselves with Congo’s gems.
In October 2002, a U.N-appointed panel issued a report on the plunder of Congo’s resources by the then actors of Congo’s war. The report detailed how criminal groups linked to the Rwandan, Ugandan, Congolese and Zimbabwean governments exploited the war in Congo to pillage the resources of the country. “The elite networks derive financial benefit through a variety of criminal activities, including theft, embezzlement, diversion of public funds, under evaluation of goods, smuggling, false invoicing, non payment of taxes, kickbacks to public officials and bribery.” Said the 59-page report while naming 29 companies and 54 individuals (many of them highly placed officials of the culprit countries).
Congo with her diamonds, gold, coltan and other valuable minerals is one of the most attractive places in the world for greedy people. No wonder that some peacekeepers find it irresistible to suppress the urge to engage in a little game of graft even if that will cause some little more suffering for the people they came to help.
Njei Moses Timah