UN report alleges mineral smuggling has “risen substantially during 2011”

Smuggling of minerals between DR Congo and Rwanda has “risen substantially during 2011” according to a report published by the United Nations Group of Experts on DR Congo today. Here is my feature for Reuters on the UN report written with Jonny Hogg, Reuters Kinshasa-based correspondent. The report, which also covers rebel groups, arms dealing and human rights issues, states,

“The level of recorded domestic production of tin, tungsten and tantalum ores continues to be higher than industry analysts consider the real level of production to be… suggesting that material from the DRC is being smuggled into Rwanda, and then tagged as of Rwandan origin.”

This claim is disputed by the Stanislav Kamanzi, the Minister of Natural Resources in Rwanda in an interview in Kigali earlier today,

“For sure attempts of minerals illegal boarder crossing have been observed in the past, but stringent measures were also taken to discourage that,” said Kamanzi.

“The return to DRC by the Government of Rwanda, of 90 tonnes of impounded fraudulent minerals is testimony to that. In the same vein our security and customs institutions have put in place adequate mechanisms to prevent such occurrences. If any that succeed to leak across the border, our mineral traceability system, which Rwanda is the only country to implement in the whole region, prevents them from entering the legal mineral trading circuits.”

“The alleged widespread fraudulent mineral entries in Rwanda is really more of exaggeration. Mining in Rwanda is benefiting consistent foreign and domestic investment which has made it the principal national export earner. As Government, we are committed to ensuring the sector is not interfered with by any unregulated practices from outside.”

“Finally, as Rwanda we would like to see other Countries embrace the mineral traceability system, which would provide an open framework for legal minerals trading, and an opportunity for the our respective Countries to effectively use those resources they are endowed with, to support their socio-economic development.”

However,  the extensive UN report details alleged smuggling across legal and illegal border crossings,

“Smuggling is a widespread problem. Minerals can pass unrecorded through official crossings but most smugglers use illegal border crossings. The Group of Experts identified a number of such crossings, including a street controlled by General Ntaganda in Goma and a small Lake Kivu port north of Bukavu run by elements of the FARDC Navy. Smugglers sometimes try to launder untagged material into the ITRI tin supply chain initiative (iTSCi) in Rwanda, threatening the credibility of the system.”

In addition to the smuggling allegations, the report suggests there is no conclusive link between exiled political opponents based in South Africa and the FDLR in DR Congo,

“There is widespread interest amongst rebel groups, including within the FDLR, in an alliance with South Africa-based political opponents, Patrick Karegeya and Kayumba Nyamwasa. However, to date, the Group did not find conclusive evidence indicating that the dissidents themselves have provided either financial or material support to the FDLR or any other group in the eastern DRC.”

An allegation that Rwanda has previously contested and is likely to contest once the report has been digested.

There is plenty more of interest within the report that is likely to spark plenty of debate both within the Great Lakes region and elsewhere. Not least, the allegations against Bosco Ntaganda, who is still a general in the army despite being subject to the ICC arrest warrant,

Border police officers in Goma complained to the Group that Ntaganda’s soldiers deny access to the border between the two official crossings. The same sources informed the Group that in June 2011, the police attempted to intercept an estimated three tonnes of material being smuggled through the illegal border crossing. Ntaganda’s troops arrested the police officer in charge and detained him for the duration of the operation. The Group visited the streets adjacent both sides of the border and witnessed that Ntaganda’s soldiers were positioned in a tent on the DRC side, in full view of RDF soldiers deployed along the Rwandan side. Congolese frontier police and intelligence services, as well as Rwandan officials, confirmed that RDF soldiers have sentry posts all along the border and that nothing can cross without their knowledge.

Photo of artisinal miner in Gicumbi district, Rwanda taken from my Flickr account.