Pak UN troops ‘aided’ gold smugglers

Islamabad, August 29:

UN peacekeepers from Pakistan gave food, transport and armed protection to gold smugglers in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, UN investigators have found, in the latest scandal involving international troops in the area.

The peacekeepers “aided and abetted” the smugglers in Mongbwalu, a remote mining town, in late 2005, according to a report by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services, which the Guardian has obtained.

Human rights activists say the Pakistanis were part of a smuggling ring including Congolese army soldiers, crooked officials and rebel soldiers, and which involved millions of pounds worth of gold.

Unfettered plunder of gold, tin and other minerals has fuelled the violence and corruption that have dogged eastern Congo for many years. The 17,000-troop UN peacekeeping mission to the country, known as Monuc, aims to help restore the rule of law.

The UN report does not state whether the Pakistanis benefited from the gold trade. But it does detail a surprisingly warm relationship with a small group of Kenyans of Indian origin who turned up at the remote gold town carrying a money-stuffed suitcase in late 2005.

The Kenyans, one of whom later admitted to smuggling and bribery, travelled on a UN flight, ate at the Pakistani mess hall in Mongbwalu, and were transported in UN vehicles — while “buying as much gold as possible” from local traders. One witness saw Pakistani soldiers standing guard outside a gold shop while the Kenyans negotiated inside.

The Pakistani commander told UN investigators he had no idea what the smugglers did for a living. The enthusiastic welcome they received was part of Pakistani hospitality, he said.

The UN report finds that the Pakistani peacekeepers broke two rules in the UN code of conduct and “indirectly contributed to the illegal exploitation of Congolese natural resources”. It urges the Pakistani military to take appropriate action against the commander.

But Pakistan’s army spokesman, Major General Waheed Arshad, said the report exonerated his soldiers.

“No rule was broken. They perhaps unwittingly abetted those people and provided some facilities. But it says there is no proof they knew they were smuggling gold,” he said. “We are also carrying out an investigation. Our troops just thought it was another group of people moving in that area,” he said.

Human rights activists say the UN report failed to uncover the full extent of the Mongbwalu scandal, including allegations that Pakistani soldiers traded guns for gold.