PRESS CONFERENCE ON DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO REPORT
Almost all belligerents in the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were benefiting in one way or another, with the Congolese people as the only losers, correspondents were told this morning at a Headquarters press conference.
Briefing reporters on the report of the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (document S/2000/357), Safiatou Ba-N’Daw (Côte d’Ivoire), the Panel’s Chair, said the conflict had become a “win-win” situation for all belligerents and was now mainly about access, control and trade of coltan, diamond, copper, cobalt and gold, as well as timber, coffee and ivory. The exploitation of the country’s natural resources by foreign armies had become systematic and systemic, and the role of the private sector in the exploitation and continuation of the war had been vital. Top military commanders from various countries needed the conflict for its lucrative nature.
The Panel was established in June 2000 by the Secretary-General at the request of the Security Council. The other Panel’s members are: François Ekoko (Cameroon); Mel Holt (United States); Henri Maire (Switzerland); and Moustapha Tall (Senegal).
Ms. Ba-N’Daw said the Panel’s task was as complex as the country itself and had not been completed because more information was received every day. The Panel had collected primary data, consisting of official documentation and recorded minutes of meetings. Secondary sources included reports and published and open unpublished literature. It had also conducted interviews with a wide variety of informed sources. While data was relatively abundant in Uganda and Rwanda, as well as for certain rebel groups, the same was not true for Zimbabwe, Angola or Namibia. All information had been carefully checked, analysed and cross-checked.
Massive and illegal exploitation of the country’s wealth had occurred in two phases since 1998, she continued. The first phase was one of mass-scale looting of minerals, wood, livestock and money by armed forces and nationals of Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda. The second phase consisted of systematic and systemic exploitation, relying on structures developed during the conquest of power by the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire. Proceeds of that illegal activity went to the foreign armies and other forces within the country. Plundering, looting, racketeering and the emergence of criminal cartels in the occupied territories now represented a serious security problem in the region.
The Panel recommends, among other measures, that the Security Council declare: a temporary embargo on the import/export of coltan, pyrochlore, cassiterite, timber, gold and diamonds from and to Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi until their involvement in the exploitation of the natural resources of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was cleared; and an immediate embargo on weapons and military materiel to the rebel groups, extending that embargo to the States that supported those groups.
The Panel also recommends that the Council: request the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to consider suspending their support to the
budgets of Rwanda and Uganda until the end of the conflict; and strongly urge all Member States to freeze the financial assets of the companies or individuals who continued to participate in the illegal exploitation of the country’s natural resources. Individuals, religious groups and companies whose properties had been damaged, looted or expropriated by Rwandan, Ugandan, and Burundian armed forces and their allies should be compensated by the States concerned.
Asked about the lack of data from Namibia, Zimbabwe and Angola, she said more information from Uganda and Rwanda was available because in those countries more people, such as former rebels, were ready to provide information and documentation. Despite visits to Namibia, Zimbabwe and Angola, Panel members had not been able to get as much data.
In response to a question about what countries had to do in order to be cleared by the Security Council, Ms. Ba-N’Daw said the Council should ascertain itself that those countries’ involvement had stopped, as requested in resolutions 1304 (2000) and 1341 (2000).
Asked about the relationship between the Banque de commerce, du développement et d’industrie (BCDI) and Citibank in New York, she said that Citibank had been the correspondent bank of BCDI. Citibank did not finance the diamond trade. She did not know how much Citibank knew about what was going on.
Answering another correspondent’s question about the involvement of the United States in the illegal exploitation of resources, she said that the systems for exploitation had been established in 1997. Some developed countries had directly or indirectly participated in illegal exploitation. If there was not enough information available, the Panel had not singled out a country. The Panel would make available to the Council extra information it had, such as lists of companies and individuals. It would be up to the Council to decide on follow-up.
Some Panel members had been having difficulties because of the harassment of witnesses, she said, in response to a question. She had received information that witnesses had been threatened and was very concerned about that.
Asked if armies involved in exploitation had been sanctioned by their governments, she said that sometimes individual soldiers had taken minerals, but army commanders had also been involved. The political establishment had been aware of that. Panel members had visited occupied areas several times, as well as some countries. Some countries had given a lot of information, others less so. Uganda had provided all the information asked for.
Asked about the involvement of President Kagame of Rwanda and other political leaders, she said the report was specific about the political responsibilities of the President. The Panel could only make an analysis on the facts it had received. The Panel had not seen that any of the presidents had been linked directly to the illegal exploitation. They had received information, they were aware of the situation and had decided not to act. Based on their responsibilities as political leaders, they were, therefore, accomplices to that exploitation.
The Panel had decided not to estimate the value of the lost resources, because that value would have been underestimated, she responded to another question. The price of the minerals also varied too much over time to give an
exact amount. The companies mentioned in the annex to the report were, based on the mandate the Panel had, guilty of illegal exploitation. She could not give a “top 3” of companies outside the region most involved in illegal exploitation. She had a list of companies and individuals not attached to the report, which had to be discussed with the Security Council on Friday.
Asked what the impact would be on the balance of power in the region if the Council imposed sanctions on Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, Ms. Ba-N’Daw said the Panel’s role had been to respond to its mandate, not to discuss the balance of power.
One correspondent said that Rwanda and Uganda had given security reasons as an explanation for their presence in the Democratic Republic, while the report stated that they were there for the exploitation of natural resources. How could the Panel reconcile those two statements? She said the Panel had not tried to reconcile those statements, but had only reported its findings on the ground.
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