GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo – President Kabila’s nearly four-month ban on mining exploitation in the Kivu provinces has been a windfall for army commanders of the government’s ongoing military operations against Hutu foreign combatants in eastern Congo. Human rights activists have been vocal about regular army involvement in the mining and the export of mineral ores mainly extracted from sites once held by FDLR and Mai-Mai militias. Army officers put to work the units under their command, prisoners, and forced civil labor to exploit mine under their control. Alternatively, some officers rent mining sites to venturesome businessmen.
In Shabunda, South Kivu province for instance, civil society leaders have singled out mining businessmen and Congolese army elements as driving illegal mining activities. Last Tuesday, January 4, traders working in conjuction with army elements attempted to ship 155 pounds of raw cassiterite on a chartered plane to the South Kivu capital of Bukavu, but the police seized the cargo. A week earlier, a shipment of 680 pounds of the valuable ore from Lulingu mining site was also seized at the airport in Bukavu. In Matili on the other hand, army units returned nearly a shipment of 400 pounds of cassiterite to its owner in exchange for a signficant bribe.
In reality the mining business is flourishing throughout the Kivu provinces. In Masisi, a team of western reporters that had been investigating illicit mining was nearly held hostage last Monday, January 3 by Congolese army officers. The team had secured the good company of a mining site owner in Rubaya-Masisi, southwest of Goma in North Kivu province, when two ex-CNDP majors arrived, enraged by the inquisitive eyes of the journalists. The mining site owner was grilled by the soldiers for hours and was only freed after paying a ransom.
Civil society groups consider that Kabila’s ban has been one more “zero tolerance-zero consequences” policy especially in regards to military officers’ scramble for minerals trade.
Photo: Woman passes Congolese soldiers on a road (AP)