DR Congo + 2 more

DRC: ''No evidence of illegal acts'', says a Belgian pillage study

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BRUSSELS, 22 February (IRIN) - After 18 months of work and 71 hearings, the Belgian Senate commission on the exploitation of natural resources in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has concluded that no illegal acts were committed by the people and companies investigated.
The conclusion was announced during a news conference in Brussels on Thursday, amid a highly charged political atmosphere.

"Without prejudice of evidence to be brought in the future, the commission has not noted illegal acts committed by auditioned people," the report said.

The 15-member Senate commission was established in November 2001 in the wake of the publication of the addendum report of the UN Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth in the DRC. The task of the commission was to investigate the alleged involvement of Belgian and non-Belgian companies in the illegal trade of natural resources of the DRC, and to search for ways to prevent proceeds of such activities from fuelling war in the region.

Opposition senators refused to endorse the text, saying that the recommendations "without any content" are aimed to protect "Belgian political and economic interests in the region". The senators said they would not be accomplice to the humanitarian catastrophe in DRC.

The commission's findings and recommendations focus primarily on the trade in coltan, diamonds, gold, and wood from the DRC, as well as on the trafficking of arms. It gave particular attention to the dealings of Belgian entrepreneur Georges Forrest with the Congolese state mining company Gecamines in Katanga Province.

The Senate commission's report recalled the involvement of neighbouring countries of DRC in the exploitation of natural resources in order to finance their war effort, and "at the expense of the Congolese population", but refrains from accusing any individual.

However, several Belgian companies have been named in the reports of the UN panel, including the Forrest Group, as well as Lebanese diamond traders in Antwerp accused of money laundering and criminal activities.

"We have asked the UN panel to bring us the legal evidence of these accusations, but in vain so far," Marcel Colla, the report co-rapporteur of the political majority, said at the news conference.

He added, "The boundary between moral and immoral, legal and illegal is not obvious."

The Belgian report notes suspicion regarding The Forrest Group - whose vice-presidents are linked to Belgian governmental parties - but does not accuse it outright.

Critics said that the Senate commission led only one fact-finding mission to Rwanda and DRC in November 2002, and that their final report made no mention that the pro-Rwandan Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD-Goma) rebel movement in eastern DRC had denied the senators access to cities under their control.

"I am bitter and even furious that we weren't able to publish a more precise and more convincing report which could have contributed to stop the plundering and thus the tragedy," Georges Dallemagne, report co-rapporteur of the political opposition, told the news conference.

"We are only halfway. At present, Rwanda and Uganda are trying to take the control of the gold mines of Kilo Moto in Ituri [District, northeastern DRC]. But the commission failed to recommend an embargo on resources coming from that region as long as there is no transitional government in DRC," he said.

The commission suggested the creation of a follow-up committee during the next Belgian government, to be implemented after the general elections of 18 May. "It will help to make the link with the UN panel, whose mandate has been prorogated for a new period of six months," Andre Geens, the commission chairman, said.

It also asked the Belgian government to take the necessary steps for the launching of international regulation f investments in conflict zones, and the planning of a legal framework in such countries.

The full report of the commission will be published in the coming weeks. It is due to be posted at http://www.senate.be/www.webdriver?MIval=index_senate&M=3&LANG=fr

In related news, a fact-finding mission of about 150 Belgian entrepreneurs is currently visiting the DRC to explore possible investment opportunities in the country.

[ENDS]

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