UN troops traded guns for gold with militias, says report
By David Usborne in New York Independent
Published: 24 May 2007
Scandal is engulfing the United Nations once again after allegations that peacekeepers stationed in Congo traded guns for gold with militia groups that they were meant to be disarming. Meanwhile, a trial got under way in New York of a former UN official accused of taking bribes.More here
The UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) said in a statement that an investigation into the guns-for-gold claims had begun and was continuing, adding that it had a "zero-tolerance policy for misconduct and will remain vigilant in preventing egregious and unacceptable behaviour".
At the heart of the investigation are allegations that, in 2005, Pakistani soldiers sent by the UN to restore peace in Ituri province around the north-eastern mining town of Mongbwalu began returning guns to militia groups, receiving gold in exchange.
Witnesses confirmed the existence of the trade to the BBC. One Congolese officer "repeatedly saw militia who had been disarmed one day but the next day would become rearmed again. The information he could obtain was always the same, that it would be the Pakistani battalion giving arms back to the militia."
Human Rights Watch said it had its own information on the case which it had passed to the UN. "Pakistani officers were involved in illegal smuggling of between $2m-$5m in gold out of Ituri. We have very solid information on this," said Anneke Van Woudenberg, a researcher with the group.
The Congo force of almost 18,000 soldiers is the largest UN deployment in the world. It has been credited with helping the country's transition to a fragile democracy after a vicious civil war from 1998 to 2003 that killed as many as four million people and drew in forces from several neighbouring countries.
The UN has been accused of burying the initial findings of the investigation to avoid embarrassing Pakistan, the largest peacekeeping troop contributor. The UN's special representative in the DRC, William Swing, emphatically denied the guns-for-gold claims.