Indian Army probing gold smuggling charge against Congo peacekeepers (Lead)

April 28th, 2008 - 10:13 pm ICT by admin  

New Delhi/London, April 28 (IANS) The Indian Army has ordered a probe into allegations of gold trafficking by three Indian peacekeepers in the Congo - but denied charges of gunrunning in the restive nation. “A probe has been ordered against the three peacekeepers based on the feedback given to us by the United Nations’ Officer of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS). If found guilty, necessary action will be initiated against them,” an official said in New Delhi Monday.

The allegations were contained in a BBC programme telecast Monday that also said Pakistani peacekeepers too were involved in gold smuggling and arms trafficking.

The three Indian peacekeepers, including a lieutenant colonel, a junior commissioned officer and a non-commissioned officer, had allegedly bought “unwrought gold” - that was later found fake - from a dealer having links with an FDLR rebel militia for an undetermined sum of money.

The Indian peacekeeping contingent reportedly detained the dealer to recover the money paid.

“The charges of gold trafficking have been substantiated by the OIOS by corroborative statements,” the official said.

“OIOS has affirmed that there is no evidence of any other allegations against the Indian soldiers in the Congo to imply the arming of the militia in region,” the official added.

The issue echoed at the biannual Army Commanders’ conference that Defence Minister A.K. Antony inaugurated in New Delhi Monday.

“India has participated in 43 peacekeeping operations in more than 30 countries, which has earned the country a lot of goodwill. However, there have been some stray incidents which have tarnished the otherwise impeccable track record of our army in international missions and exercises,” the minister said.

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” he added.

“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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