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 concluded 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 United Nations to investigate sanctions violations, noted “pervasive insubordination” throughout Congo’s national FARDC army, naming several senior officers, many of them former CNDP rebels incorporated into army ranks following a 2009 peace deal.
“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 but 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 rumours,” Major Sylvain Ekenge said, noting a military tribunal was already pursuing some individuals.
But 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.
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.