, UNITED NATIONS, Nov 30 – Criminal gangs have taken an increasing grip on the Democratic Republic of Congo\’s rich minerals trade and one group even offered black market uranium, a UN report said on Monday.
Many of the criminal networks now operate within the DR Congo army, undermining efforts to end strife – including mass killings and rapes – in the east of the African nation, said a report by UN sanctions committee experts.
Army units have been accused by local populations of "looting and burning entire villages and torturing and raping civilians in the course of their operations," said the experts.
Rwandan rebels operating in eastern DR Congo tried in 2008 to sell six canisters of what they said was uranium found in an underground vault dating from Belgian colonial times.
The report said however that the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels had been unable to find a buyer for the uranium.
The UN experts said they had given Interpol details of the attempted trade as well as the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has been monitoring illicit traffic from DR Congo\’s Katanga province, where there is a uranium deposit at Shinkolobwe.
It would take several hundred canisters of uranium to make a single gram of fissile material, the report stressed.
The UN Security Council on Monday extended sanctions against individuals and a weapons embargo against DR Congo for another year as it highlighted concern over renewed attacks on villages.
In a French-drafted resolution, the council gave its backing to moves to make individuals and companies check whether money paid for minerals and gems imported from DR Congo is going to armed groups extending conflict in the African nation.
Sanctions include a weapons embargo in place since 2003, air traffic restrictions and travel and financial sanctions against the leaders of DR Congo and Rwandan militia and rebel groups active in the mineral region.
Much of the conflict in eastern DR Congo revolves around the battle between rival militias and armed groups for control of the region\’s rich natural resources.
The UN report said the army had had some success disrupting armed groups, but highlighted criminal activities within the army.
The experts said attempts by military prosecutors to stop rogue army groups from siphoning off mining profits in eastern DR Congo had been obstructed by senior officers.
Army groups took taxes on mineral profits, forced mines to pay protection fees and in some cases just pillaged mines to take gems and minerals, the report said.
Out of the 3,723 incidents of violence and attacks reported in the first half of 2010 by the UN refugee agency, 1,302 were caused by the army against 698 by the FDLR, said the report.
The UN Security Council resolution acknowledged the "continuing illicit flow of weapons" into DR Congo, particularly eastern provinces.
It expressed "great concern" at the killing and displacement of civilians, use of child soldiers and the mass rapes of women in the eastern provinces in July and August.
The Security Council expressed support for new guidelines which would make consumers of Congo\’s minerals check on the origins of imports.
The guidelines have been recommended by the UN\’s DR Congo sanctions committee experts and have not yet been issued.
US ambassador Susan Rice said the guidelines "could significantly limit the illicit minerals trade, which has for many years fuelled violence" in DR Congo.