KINSHASA (Reuters) - Extensive criminal networks within Congo’s army are deliberately fostering insecurity to profit from illegal mining, smuggling and poaching, a report from United Nations experts said on Monday.
Insecurity in Congo’s east has continued despite the end of a 1998-2003 war, displacing more than 1.27 million people and spurred on by competition for natural resources that has had a “devastating impact on security,” according to the report.
The Group of Experts, a five-member team tasked by the U.N. to investigate sanctions violations, noted “pervasive insubordination” throughout Congo’s national FARDC army.
“Officers at different levels of FARDC hierarchy jostle for control over mineral-rich areas at the expense of civilian protection,” it said of criminal networks within the army.
Referring to the rape of over 300 people in the Walikale district in July and August, the report said the local militia blamed for the attack had been created by the army.
“The Group has concluded that Mai Mai Sheka is a creation of a criminal network within FARDC,” it said, noting that repeated lootings by the group were aimed at the district’s main mines.
The report is based on information from the U.N. and local groups, plus the team’s “first-hand, on-site observations,” or information corroborated with at least three independent sources assessed by the Group as credible and reliable.
A national army spokesman did not respond to phone messages and calls for comment. A spokesman for the U.N.-backed Amani Leo operation in the east questioned the report’s credibility.
“They call themselves experts but it’s written on the basis of rumors,” Major Sylvain Ekenge said, noting a military tribunal was already pursuing some individuals.
He insisted report allegations that ex-CNDP officers are “the real decision makers” in most FARDC brigades are not true.
“There are no CNDP in the FARDC today -- it’s all the FARDC, we are not a political institution,” he said.
In a resolution, the U.N. Security Council backed several of the report’s recommendations, including a request to investigate human rights abuses within the national armed forces and support for new “due diligence” guidelines for the minerals industry.
The resolution, which extended sanctions including an arms embargo on rebel groups and travel bans and asset freezes on people linked to illicit mineral trading for another year, also added a new expert to the panel to focus on natural resources.
The due diligence guidelines would require importers to tighten background checks on minerals. “If implemented, these guidelines could significantly limit the illicit minerals trade, which has for many years fueled violence in (Congo),” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said.
The experts say former rebels are poorly integrated into the army, headed by war crimes indictee Bosco Ntaganda.
The Group said CNDP had established at least three “hidden” battalions made up exclusively of their own officers, taxes local populations and is using Virunga National Park, home to rare gorillas, as a training ground for new recruits.
The report said the army benefited from everything from gold exports worth $160 million a year and tin ore mining to elephant poaching and charcoal and timber trades that destroy hundreds of thousands of trees, as well as continuing to recruit children.
Army commanders “have hidden children or even continued to recruit children,” said the report, noting 353 of 1,627 children released from combat in the first nine months of 2010 were from the FARDC and that the U.N. mission had been allowed to screen only one third of units it supports in joint operations.
The report said the FARDC had disrupted -- but not defeated -- any of the major armed groups, estimating Rwandan Hutu rebel FDLR numbers now stand at 3,500, down from 5,800 in 2007.
Additional reporting by Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations; Editing by Maria Golovnina and Jackie Frank