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Weeks after delegates first arrived in the Ugandan capital of Kampala for talks aimed at ending the M23 rebellion in eastern Congo, preconditions for the negotiations are just being finalized. But as details about M23-linked gold smuggling from the conflict area underscores, the group maintains an extensive and lucrative network throughout the region, which undermines any hopes that the Kampala process alone will bring about lasting stability.
Most recently, Congo’s neighbor, Burundi, has become a transit point for smuggling gold from Congo, according to Enough Project sources. The U.N. Group of Experts also documented in their November 2012 report the links between M23 rebels and gold transported out of the region through Uganda via the border town of Bunagana, which has been under M23 control since July 2012:
M23 has sought financing for its movement through the sale in Kampala of gold which have transited through border posts it controls with Uganda. Former UPDF officer, two Kampala-based businessmen, and M23 cadres reported that M23 attempted to sell gold originating from mines controlled by M23 allies in Walikale and Ituri. These sources reported that M23 first brought to Kampala a shipment of 200 kilograms of gold, and subsequently another lot of 125 kilograms, both transiting through Bunagana.
At current rates, the value of those shipments equates to about $10.8 million and $8.1 million respectively.
The Group of Experts found that the 200-kilogram shipment was eventually sent on to Nairobi, Kenya, and as of September 2012 M23 members were still looking for a buyer for the 125-kilogram stock. With regards to the source of the shipment and ties to M23 leaders, the group noted:
M23 members, as well as Kampala-based smugglers informed the Group that [Bosco] Ntaganda oversaw these deals, and that the gold had been obtained through his longstanding collaboration with other armed groups. The same sources stated that the revenues of these sales would be allocated to the functioning of M23. The Group notes that Ntaganda previously collaborated with a network of scam artists in Kampala and Nairobi, and assumes that the gold could be at least partly false.
As the Enough Project wrote in a report published in October 2012, little progress has been made to regulate the trade of conflict gold from eastern Congo, in contrast to efforts to bring transparency to the market for tin, tantalum, and tungsten. In fact, Enough researchers found, “As U.S. legislation and supply-chain pressure from tech companies have made it more difficult for them to sell the more cumbersome so-called 3-T minerals—tin, tantalum, and tungsten—rebels and army commanders have increasingly turned to gold.”
One group aligned with the M23 rebels that has been particularly active of late is the Raia Mutomboki. Originally focused on hunting down FDLR fighters in Shabunda/South Kivu, factions of the group now allied with the M23 have been responsible for "incomprehensibly vicious” killings against Rwandophone community the M23 claims it fights for. The killings have been committed in operations led by M23 officers Lt. Col. Eric Badege and Makoma Semivumbi in July and August 2012 in the minerals-rich territories of Masisi and Walikale in North Kivu province and has now expanded to a mining area of Maniema province called Kasese.
Raia Mutomboki clashed with the Congolese army last week in Kasese in what civil society sources told Enough was an apparent bid to take over tin and tantalum mines. Mine operators and miners were forced to flee along with much of the local population, a source said, adding that the insecurity was therefore “likely to jeopardize the minerals bag and tagging system that has just been inaugurated for Maniema province.”
In what was presented by M23 members in Kampala as a sign of goodwill, the group announced last week that it would abide by a ceasefire, even if the Congolese government would not do the same. But civil society groups in eastern Congo were dismissive of the gesture. "The M23 has announced a cease-fire but that doesn't mean anything if its allies such as Mai-Mai Morgan in Mambasa/Ituri, Raia Mutomboki, etc. throughout the Kivus are wrecking peace efforts," SOS Africa activists said in a statement on local radio stations in Goma.
Photo: A gold trader in eastern Congo (Enough / Sasha Lezhnev)
Enough Team contributed to this post.