By Taylor Toeka - International Justice - ICC
ACR Issue 285,
12 Jan 11
Militia groups and government soldiers continue to profit from illegal mining in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC, despite a ban on mining that was imposed by the government last year, according to campaigners
The September 11 ban on mining, which covers the provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu and Maniema, was introduced in response to the rape of more than 300 women and children in Walikale territory, North Kivu, between July 30 to August. 2 last year.
The United Nations says that this attack was carried out by a group of rebel soldiers, as a punishment for the villagers colluding with government forces. Sadoke Kokunda Mayele, a rebel commander, was arrested for allegedly leading the attack but is yet to stand trial.
The Congolese government says that one of the reasons behind these kinds of attacks is ongoing mineral exploitation in the region, as rival militia factions come to lay claim to the region's valuable natural resources.
Visiting Walikale shortly after the attack, President Joseph Kabila referred to these groups as a "kind of mafia" that has to be weeded out.
"We must clean up the mining sector to ensure that violence is not nourished any more by the abundance of raw materials," Dasize Masika, provincial minister of mines in North Kivu, said. "It is important that the local people also benefit from this underground wealth through the construction of basic social infrastructure."
The Congolese government has said that it wants to encourage a more formal mechanism for mining in the country, so that it has tighter control over the revenue that the industry generates.
It claims that it wants some of the proceeds to filter down to local communities, and not be used by militia groups to purchase arms.
Global Witness, an international NGO, says that while the mining ban is a welcome first step, little has been done to introduce more formalised controls.
"The same situation as existed before the ban exists now," Daniel Balint-Kurti, a researcher at Global Witness, said. "People are still being conscripted for forced labour in the mines."
In some areas, where mining has been brought to a halt, thousands of people who survived on the mineral trade have lost an important source of revenue.
"Putting in place the mining ban has had a serious impact on people's livelihoods, and people in the region have become more impoverished as a result," Balint-Kurti said.
"This is why we need to see a series of steps being taken to bring things under more formal control. But, as things stand at the moment, things are in a very uncomfortable limbo, without any obvious sign of progress."
Government soldiers in the area have been instructed to block access to mineral-rich areas, prevent the exploitation of mines by people living in the region and disrupt the buying and selling of illegal minerals by traders.
However, some observers have pointed out that in an area as vast and remote as eastern DRC there is not enough manpower to totally enforce the moratorium. According to the government's mining department, there are 27 officially registered quarries and 46 unofficial ones in North Kivu alone.
It is not just local militia groups, and rebels from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwandan, FDLR, that are reported to be extracting minerals.
Government soldiers, who are supposed to be maintaining law and order in the region, have also been implicated in the trade.
A hard-hitting report from the UN, published shortly after the Walikale attack, suggests that the FARDC, the Congolese armed forces, are unable to provide security in the region precisely because some of their officers are colluding with militia groups in order to enrich themselves.
The army recognises that there is a problem within its ranks, but insists that it is taking action.
"It is true that there are unruly elements of the army, which abandon their positions of trust and must take some responsibility for the insecurity suffered by the people," said Sylvain Ekenge, spokesman for the FARDC's Amani Leo operation, which was set up to counter the activities of the FDLR rebels. "That is why military justice must be strong."
Security forces' personnel say that it is often difficult to take firm action against illegal mining because of the complicity of their colleagues. A senior policeman in Ndjingala, a quarry centre in the Walikale territory, complains, "How can people be arrested when they are being escorted by our soldiers?"
Many believe that it is this scramble for mineral wealth that creates the volatile conditions that led to the mass rape in Walikale last August.
Civilians are employed by the armed groups who control the quarries to extract the minerals. This is then sold on to merchants who operate daily flights into and out of the mining areas.
"The traditional mining industry neither benefits the Congolese state, nor the provinces, nor the merchants," Martin Kabwelulu, minister of mines, said. "Rather, this exploitation just benefits some mafia groups."
The minister was referring a report from Global Witness, released in 2009, which suggested that certain international companies are "sponsoring armed groups and favouring the conflict" by trading in the DRC minerals.
"The second DRC war of 1998-2003 was largely funded by the embezzlement of resources from this kind of exploitation," said Dominic Johnson, researcher at the Pole Institute, an intercultural centre for the Great Lakes region based in Goma.
He added that this continues to fuel armed conflict.
"A direct link has been established between the fact that the government is unable to control mineral exploitation and that the population of the Kivus still suffer at the hands of so many armed groups, governmental as well as non-governmental," he said.
Johnson believes until the government manages to get a better grip on mining in the country, incidents like the one at Walikale will continue to happen.
One woman, from Luvungi, not far from Walikale, recounted what happened to her when rebel forces attacked her village.
"I was gang-raped," she said. "One after another, the men put their hand inside my vagina. They said that they were searching for gold. I spent four days, between July 30 and August 2, as a sex slave of these men."
Taylor Toeka Kakala is IWPR reporter in Goma. Blake Evans-Pritchard, IWPR's Africa Editor, contributed to this report.