Pakistani Forces in Congo Aided Gold Smugglers, the U.N. Finds
Monday, July 23, 2007
UNITED NATIONS -- Pakistani peacekeepers serving under the U.N. flag "aided and abetted" a network of Kenyan businessmen smuggling gold from a mine in eastern Congo, providing them with food, housing, transportation and security, according to the findings of a confidential U.N. investigation.
The report -- issued by the United Nations' Office of Internal Oversight -- concluded that the Pakistanis "indirectly contributed" to the illegal exploitation of gold by Congolese government troops and a militia accused of war crimes. However, it found no evidence supporting allegations that Pakistani peacekeepers in the town of Mongbwalu supplied arms to the militia, known as the Nationalist and Integrationist Front.
The findings were criticized by the New York-based Human Rights Watch, which has conducted its own investigation. A representative of the group said that U.N. investigators had ample evidence -- including photos and eyewitness testimony -- of the Pakistanis' involvement in the illicit gold trade.
"There can be little doubt that Pakistani peacekeepers were directly involved in illegal gold smuggling," said Anneke Van Woudenberg, a London-based researcher with Human Rights Watch. "The Pakistanis had a very friendly and cozy relationship with the leaders of the armed group they were supposed to be protecting the population from."
Pakistan's U.N. ambassador, Munir Akram, said his government will conduct its own investigation and "take the appropriate disciplinary action depending on the determination that we make."
Akram emphasized that the more than 10,000 Pakistani peacekeepers play a vital role in bringing peace to Congo and elsewhere. "You will have some lapses," he said. "But this should not blur the larger picture, which is the exemplary conduct and contribution of the Pakistani peacekeepers."
The Pakistani contingent is part of a force that the United Nations sent to Congo in 2000 to help end a regional war pitting Congo, Angola and Zimbabwe against Rwanda and Uganda. The U.N. peacekeepers, who now number more than 17,000, are responsible for disarming Congolese militias, particularly in mineral-rich eastern Congo.
Critics said the findings raise questions about the United Nations' ability to enforce discipline in a mission already tarnished by revelations of widespread sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers. They also follow the disclosure in the Financial Times last month that Bangladeshi peacekeepers may have killed at least one militia member in retaliation for a 2005 ambush that killed nine Bangladeshi soldiers. The incident has triggered a U.N. inquiry.
U.N. investigators are also reviewing allegations that Indian peacekeepers in eastern Congo traded food rations and intelligence to Rwandan Hutu rebels for gold, according to a senior U.N. official in New York.
U.N. officials said the problems in Congo raise concerns for future U.N. operations in the Darfur region of Sudan and in Chad. "I'm very nervous . . . that we would forget the lessons that we've learned the hard way and put peacekeepers in places where they will be set up for failure," Jean-Marie Guehenno, the United Nations' undersecretary general for peacekeeping, said in an interview.
But Pakistani officials say that the episode in Mongbwalu was isolated to a lone Pakistani contingent stationed there from September 2005 to October 2006. The United Nations has urged the Pakistani government to conduct an investigation into possible wrongdoing by the units' commander, Maj. Mohammed Javed.
A summary of more than 200 pages of internal documents, e-mails and eyewitness testimony obtained by The Washington Post suggests that more than one contingent of Pakistanis in Mongbwalu was implicated in the illicit trade and that the crimes were potentially more serious than those contained in the U.N. report. Those allegations were first reported in the spring by the BBC.
Pakistani commanders established commercial links with two Nationalist and Integrationist Front leaders, Gen. Mateso Nyinga -- known as Kung Fu -- and Col. Drati Massasi -- known as Dragon -- as early as spring 2005, according to accounts by a U.N. interpreter and the two militia leaders.
The illegal trade continued with commanders of the Congolese armed forces after the militia was driven from the area in October 2005 and its two commanders were jailed, according to testimony from a Congolese officer and other internal documents.
Pakistani peacekeepers supplied the militia with food rations, computers and other goods that were sold in shops owned by Nyinga, according to testimony by the translator working for the Pakistanis in 2005. One Pakistani commander, Maj. Ali Zaman, supplied the militia with weapons so it could protect the Pakistani troops and promised to tip the militia off before raids by government forces, according to the sources.
The U.N. interpreter recalled hearing Zaman erupt in anger twice after militia leaders informed him that they had lost weapons and four computers, according to a confidential transcript of the interpreter's testimony. "Give me my gold or my computers!" Zaman shouted at Massasi.
Nyinga and Massasi, meanwhile, issued a handwritten confession from their jail cells in May. They said they facilitated the Pakistanis' participation in the gold trade and received arms to protect the Pakistani zone from attacks. They also acknowledged helping the Pakistanis sell computers, cellphones and food rations. The note was delivered to Human Rights Watch and others by a source close to the two militia leaders, according to Van Woudenberg.
The investigation led to a tense standoff in August 2006, when Pakistani peacekeepers temporarily detained U.N. investigators after they tried to seize computers with files on the contingents' dealings with militia members and visitors. The clash triggered a bitter bureaucratic feud after some U.N. officials charged that the investigators had overreached their authority.
Akram, the Pakistani ambassador, said the confessions are suspect. "These are interested parties who would wish to transfer blame for whatever they are doing. . . . A conclusion has been reached by an independent investigation that there was no weapons trading but that there was some gray area, which we will investigate."