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UN claims on DRC gem smuggling shocks SA

A United Nations panel has startled Pretoria with findings that South Africans are exploiting “conflict diamonds” and other natural resources of the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo and smuggling them out through SA.

The panel was created to probe international concerns that the uncontrolled exploitation and smuggling of DRC resources was fuelling the country’s civil war.

“The panel has information indicating that various actors, some based in South Africa and others outside, are using the territories and facilities of South Africa to conduct illicit commercial activities involving the natural resources of the DRC.

“For example, the panel has evidence that coltan, diamonds and gold from the DRC are being smuggled into South Africa, either through its porous northern border or through its unmonitored airstrips.”

The panel of experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the DRC was convened by UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, and their report was presented to the UN Security Council on November 19.

The report comes at a sensitive time, with South Africa set to host the Inter-Congolese Dialogue in January where roleplayers in the three-year civil war will try to beat out a lasting solution to the DRC conflict.

The panel said it had received very poor co-operation from the South African government in its probe.

The South African government on Thursday night expressed surprise at the allegations, saying it had co-operated fully with the panel and would contact the UN Security Council to further the investigation.

A significant portion of rough diamonds mined in the DRC find their way to South Africa, where they are exported to major diamond trading centres in Belgium, the Netherlands, Israel and the UK, with a number of small players also getting their share of the diamonds, the report says.

Diamonds are personally smuggled by Asian and Lebanese traders operating in the eastern region of the DRC to South Africa, Belgium and other European countries, it says.

Many of the high-value diamonds also enter South Africa via the DRC government’s mining company, Miba, with the report alleging that most of the company’s valuable diamonds are being embezzled and sold for personal profit by high-level Miba and possibly government officials.

“The panel believes, on the basis of credible, independent reports, that a portion of these embezzled gems are being smuggled through South Africa for sale in Third World countries.”

South African-owned air companies are also implicated in the smuggling of coltan, a valuable conductor mineral used in hi-tech, communications and aerospace industries. The air companies apparently ship the coltan from the Kivu region or via Kigali to South Africa.

The expert panel has recommended that all concessions, agreements and contracts made during the era of deceased president Laurent Kabila be reviewed in order to address irregularities. – The Star Foreign Service

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