August 23, 2011 / 6:13 AM / 8 years ago

UN employee suspected of smuggling Congo minerals

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Congolese security forces have seized a jeep belonging to the United Nations peacekeeping operation and arrested a U.N. employee suspected of trying to smuggle over tonne of minerals out of the country, the government said on Monday.

The incident will embarrass the U.N. force, MONUSCO, which has helped prop up Democratic Republic of Congo’s weak armed forces but is also often accused of not doing enough to protect civilians and has been involved in sexual abuse scandals.

It also comes as Congo and mining companies are under increasing pressure to ensure the mineral trade does not continue to fuel conflict across the vast nation.

Congolese Information Minister Lambert Mende said the incident took place on Sunday evening at the border crossing in the eastern city of Goma.

“Border police ... and other security services ... have seized a load consisting of 24 packages of cassiterite (tin ore) each weighing 50kg, on board a MONUSCO jeep,” he said.

A police investigation is under way and two people, including a Congolese U.N. staff member, have been arrested, Mende said.

“The government wishes to see MONUSCO take all its responsibilities to avoid any repeat of these lapses,” he added.

The U.N. on Monday released a statement saying it was aware of the allegations and was co-operating with the authorities to investigate the incident.

The UN has 17,000 peacekeepers in Congo, mostly in the east of the country, where years of conflict has partly been fuelled by mineral trafficking.

Planned U.S. legislation aimed at stamping out so called “conflict minerals” from the region has led to widespread publicity on the issue, with some buyers refusing to buy Congolese produce, leading to fears of increased smuggling.

Congo, which has vast deposits of copper, tin and gold, is due to hold elections in November, with President Joseph Kabila aiming to be re-elected, despite criticism that he has failed to bring stability to the volatile east of the country.

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