LUSAKA, Dec 15 – Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila on Wednesday said a coordinated regional response was needed to curb an illicit trade in diamonds, oil and gold, which has fuelled African conflicts.
Kabila told leaders from the continent’s Great Lakes nations that they "need to adopt an action plan to stop the illegal exploitation of minerals that goes on in these countries."
He also said a mining ban recently imposed in three areas of the eastern DRC would "eliminate" groups who have profited from the trade.
"There needs to be commitment from the leaders," he told 200 delegates including several fellow presidents attending the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) in the Zambian capital.
"Illegal exploitation contributed to funding illegal groups and that is why in the Democratic Republic of Congo we have suspended mining in Nord and Sud Kivu," he said.
Kabila’s mining minister announced the suspension, which also included Maniema province, on September 11, admitting at the time that civilian and military officials had been complicit in the trade.
A UN expert two weeks later warned a precious metals conference in Berlin that rebels in the eastern DRC were being financed by illegal mining of gold and other minerals that are exported worldwide.
"The measure aims to eliminate groups whose activities are not supported by the government," Kabila said in Lusaka.
Zambian President Rupiah Banda, chairman of the ICGLR bloc of 11 countries which includes Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia, also called for joint action.
"We need to find a lasting solution to this problem of illegal exploitation of natural resources which is a cause for conflict in many countries," he said.
Other heads of state in attendance in the Zambian capital included Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania and Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi.
Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, who is subject to arrest under warrants issued by the International Criminal Court related to genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, was invited to the ICGLR but he declined.
Under the ICC statutes Bashir, who instead sent a delegation to Lusaka, is subject to arrest in any member country, of which Zambia is one.
The Sudan president had already this year been to Kenya and Chad, both signatory countries which refused to detain him.
The Great Lakes region has been a theatre of repeated violence since the 1990s, with a civil war in Burundi in 1993, the Rwandan genocide in 1994, and rebellions and wars in the DRC from 1996 to 1997 and 1998 to 2003.