India denies its peacekeepers smuggled arms in Congo

April 28th, 2008 - 9:52 pm ICT by admin  

New Delhi/London, April 28 (IANS) Indian officials Monday denied charges levelled in a BBC programme that its UN peacekeepers in the Congo had smuggled arms to militias in the strife-torn country. “The (arms smuggling) charge is frivolous,” an official in New Delhi said.

“There was a minor instance of gold smuggling. This is being investigated,” the official told IANS, speaking on condition of anonymity.

BBC reported Monday that Indian and Pakistani peacekeepers looted gold and gave arms to militias in the Congo but the United Nations covered up the scandal.

The UN investigated some of the claims in 2007, but said it could not substantiate claims of arms dealing.

A year on, the BBC television’s Panorama - an investigative programme - quoted “UN insiders” as saying UN investigators had been prevented from pursuing their inquiries for political reasons.

BBC claimed the UN investigations department is in “a state of crisis”.

The UN peacekeeping operation in the Congo is the largest in the world, with 17,000 troops spread across the resource-rich and conflict-prone country.

UN peacekeepers have brought stability since being deployed in 2000, having helped disarm warring factions, run democratic elections and assisted with reconstruction.

But an 18-month BBC investigation has found evidence that:

* Pakistani peacekeepers in the eastern town of Mongbwalu were involved in the illegal trade in gold with the FNI militia, providing them with weapons to guard the perimeter of the mines;

* Indian peacekeepers operating around the town of Goma had direct dealings with the militia responsible for the Rwandan genocide, now living in eastern Congo; and

* The Indians traded gold, bought drugs from the militias and flew a UN helicopter into the Virunga National Park, where they exchanged ammunition for ivory.

The UN, which looked into the allegations concerning the Pakistani troops in 2007, concluded that one officer had dealt in gold, allowing traders to use UN aircraft to fly into the town, hosting them at the UN base and taking them around the town.

But the UN decided that “in the absence of corroborative evidence” its investigators “could not substantiate the allegation” that Pakistani peacekeepers supplied weapons or ammunition to the militia.

The head of the UN peacekeeping operation in New York Jean-Marie Guehenno declared last year: “The investigation has found no evidence of gun smuggling.

“But it has identified an individual who seemed to have facilitated gold smuggling. We have shared the report with the concerned troop-contributing country and I am confident they will take the required action. And this issue is closed.”

However, the BBC returned to eastern Congo, where it said several residents of the mining town of Mongbwalu said they had seen the FNI re-armed.

“One former militant told our correspondent he had witnessed seven boxes of ammunition being brought from the UN camp to the re-supply the FNI during a critical fire-fight,” BBC said.

“Two FNI leaders known as Kung Fu and Dragon, who have been jailed in the capital, Kinshasa, have stated publicly that they received help from the UN,” the BBC said adding its reporters managed to get into the maximum security jail and both men confirmed this.

Kung Fu, whose real name is General Mateso Ninga, said: “Yes, it’s true, they did give us arms. They said it was for the security of the country. So they said to us that we would help them take care of the zone.”

Human Rights Watch has described the FNI as “some of the most murderous individuals that operate in eastern Congo”.

“UN insiders close to the investigation told the BBC they had been prevented from pursuing their inquiries for political reasons,” BBC said.

“The BBC’s (reporter) Martin Plaut says that in short, the Pakistanis, who are the largest troop contributors to the UN in the world, were too valuable to alienate.”

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