Congo: UN troops trade gold for guns

Pakistani UN peacekeeping troops have traded in gold and sold weapons to Congolese militia groups they were supposed to be disarming, according to a BBC report. These militia groups were guilty of some of the worst rights in during the Democratic Republic of Congo’s long civil war. The trading went on in 2005 around the mining town of Mongbwalu, in northeastern Congo—the scene of brutal fighting between the Lendu and Hema ethnic groups. A UN investigative team sent to gather evidence was obstructed and threatened, the report charges. The team’s report was finally suppressed by the UN itself to “avoid political fallout.”

The head of the local miners’ association, Liki Likambo, told BBC: “I saw a UN Pakistani soldier who came to buy gold from one of the gold negotiators here in Mongbwalu… I saw it with my own eyes.” BBC charges that soon the Pakistani officers were doing deals directly with the FNI [Nationalist & Integrationist Front], the militia that controls the mines.

Local businessman Evarista Anjasubu said he was aware of transactions between Pakistani officers and two of the most notorious militia leaders, called “Kung Fu” and “Dragon.” “They were already friends. I knew well. It was gold that was the basis of their friendship. So the gold extracted from the mines went directly to the Pakistanis. They used to meet in the UN camp in Mongbwalu, in a thatched house.”

Richard Ndilu, immigration chief at Mongbwalu airstrip, became suspicious in late 2005 when an Indian businessman arrived there and went to stay at the camp of the Pakistani troops. Alerted to reports of illegal trade, the Ituri District Commissioner, Petronille Vaweka, went to Bunia airport to intercept a plane from Mongbwalu. She told BBC her way was blocked by Congolese army officers, who refused to allow her to inspect the cargo. “When we wanted to verify what was inside the plane the pilot refused to allow us to enter the plane – me who was the chief, he refused! It was a big scandal.”

When the UN was alerted to the allegations of gold trading by Human Rights Watch in late 2005, they opened an investigation by the Office for Internal Oversight Services. This probe apparently revealed that the Pakistanis were selling confiscated arms back to the militiamen for gold. One witness told the Internal Oversight Services: “The officer expressed his regrets over the malpractices of a Pakistani battalion under the auspices of Major Zanfar. He revealed the arms surrendered by ex-combatants were secretly returned to them by Major Zanfar thereby compromising the work they had collectively done earlier. Repeatedly he saw militia who had been disarmed one day, but the next day would become re-armed again. The information he could obtain was always the same, that it would be the Pakistani battalion giving arms back to the militia.”

When UN investigators attempted to seize a computer with apparently incriminating documents, a stand-off ensued. Pakistani troops surrounded the UN police accompanying the investigators and brought in two armored personnel carriers. Finds the BBC: “Thoroughly intimidated, the investigators were airlifted out of Mongbwalu.”

The Pakistani troops are replaced every six months and the BBC investigation concerns events that took place prior to the deployment of the current battalion.

When BBC put the claims of weapons trading to the UN’s Congo chief, Ambassador William Swing, he replied: “This I can categorically deny. What we have done is just the opposite. We have demobilised more than 20,000. We have taken in caches of arms. We have destroyed arms. We have done public burnings of these arms. And there is absolutely nothing to that allegation.”

But one anonymous UN official ctold the BBC there is to have been a plan to bury the investigation, to avoid alienating Pakistan—the largest contributor of troops to the UN.

The UN in New York has refused to explain what took place or why, nearly two years after the allegations first surfaced, the Congolese people have no idea what action – if any – has been taken to discipline the Pakistani soldiers concerned.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry said the UN had only been recently informed it of the charges, and they would be looked into. (BBC, May 23)

See our last post on the ongoing war for Central Africa.