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The East African : Apr 19th 2015
18 DRC government troops launch a missile in a fight against rebels. Unep reports that criminal groups promote the co-existence of several militias to retain control of smuggling operations Pic: File The EastAfrican NEWS APRIL 18-24,2015 INSTABILITY IN THE CONGO DRC: Organised crime worse than rebels La≥ge-scale o≥ganised c≥iminal netwo≥ks play a ≥ole in keeping a≥med g≥oups active, says Unep By KEVIN J KELLEY Special Correspondent T ransnational crime syndicates are the primary catalyst for instability in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the United Nations reported last week. The more than two dozen armed rebel groups operating in the DRC are a less significant factor, says a report issued by the United Nations Environmental Programme. These militias receive only a tiny share of the net profits from resource smuggling, leaving them ill-equipped and vulnerable to manipulation by the more financially potent criminal rings, the Unep report observes. “The protracted conflict cycle and insecurity in eastern DRC appear increasingly dominated by economic interests rather than predominantly political motivations,” says the 39-page analysis prepared with input from the UN mission in the DRC and other UN agencies. “Around 98 per cent of the net profits from illegal natural resource exploitation — particularly gold, charcoal and timber — goes to transnational organised criminal networks operating in and outside DRC.” Measly 2pc cut The two per cent cut left for groups such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) amounts to a combined $13.2 million per year, Unep estimates. It calculates that this sum is sufficient to maintain up to 8,900 fighters, based on a subsistence cost of about $1,500 per combatant. Annual net profits that or- ganised crime derives from the DRC are “conservatively estimated” to include up to $120 million from gold smuggling, $48 million from timber, $35 million from charcoal, $23 million from minerals used in digital devices, and up to $28 million from the combined trade in ivory, fish, cannabis and other resources, as well as from “local taxation schemes.” “The sheer scale of the smuggling and the fact that armed groups receive only a small fraction of these profits suggests that large-scale transnational organised criminal networks play a role in keeping armed groups active,” the report says. “This could be deliberately done to create an environment of insecurity to continue facilitating the illegal extraction and smuggling of natural resources from eastern DRC.” Divide and rule It is also possible that the criminal groups promote the co-existence of a large number of rebel militias in order to prevent any single entity from becoming powerful enough to challenge the crime syndicates’ smuggling operations, the report adds. Some militia units are used to provide security at mines operated by other actors, Unep notes. Members of the FDLR, cur- rently the target of a military offensive on the part of the DRC army, suffer from low morale and complain about the quality of their weapons and uniforms, the report says. FDLR fighters are “ordered to loot to survive,” according to the report. “This indicates that they do not retain any significant amount of the mineral or charcoal wealth that they collect, tax and/or loot.” Additional funding for the FDLR comes from the Rwandan diaspora in Europe and from Rwandan refugees in South Kivu, Unep says. Even if the Congolese army were to succeed in its campaign against the FDLR, the rebel force would be able to regroup, the report suggests. “Disarming armed groups individually will not prevent their reappearance,” Unep says. “This is particularly the case as the income generated from continuous large-scale natural resource smuggling goes to transnational organised criminal networks located for the most part outside the DRC.” These crime syndicates are beyond the reach of the DRC government and the mandate of the UN mission in the country, the report notes.
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