An displaced woman receive a bucket from the Red Cross
as they distribute non food items in Kibati, just north of Goma,
in eastern Congo, Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2008. (AP / Karel Prinsloo)
November 12 2008
Government officials in Angola say they’re mobilizing troops to send to Congo, a country one aid worker is calling “the worst place” in the world to be a woman or child.
The mobilization is raising fears that violence in that country would spread through the region.
Angolan Deputy Foreign Minister Georges Chicoty said the troops will support the Congo government in its fight against rebels led by a former Tutsi general. Congo had asked Angola for political and military assistance last month.
However, there are concerns that neighbouring Rwanda may see the presence of Angolan troops, which will not act as a peacekeeping force, as a provocation.
There are also worries that tensions between Tutsis and Hutus — who escaped to the Congo from Rwanda during an ethnic genocide in the 1990s — will increase. The current conflict is fuelled by concerns by Tutsi leaders in Congo that they’ll be targeted by Hutus who participated in the genocide and then fled to the country.
Earlier this week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said 3,000 more UN peacekeeping soldiers were needed in Congo to bolster a 17,000-member UN force.
Ban also called for a ceasefire so aid workers could get help to at “at least 100,000 refugees” cut off in rebel-controlled areas.
“The conditions in (the refugee camps) are as bad as I have seen them anywhere in Africa,” World Vision spokesperson Kevin Cook told CTV’s Canada AM on Wednesday morning.
Displaced people are in urgent need of water, sanitation, hygiene, nutrition and other supplies and protection from escalating violence.”
Cook said aid workers are also concerned about the spread of diseases such as malaria, cholera, measles and diarrhea. He also noted that he is not sure how long relief workers would be able to stay in the country if the situation worsens.
UN officials have noted that both sides in the dispute have committed crimes against civilians, including rapes.
“This is probably the worst place in the world to be a woman or a child,” Cook said.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the most volatile parts of the world and also one of the most mineral-rich.
That provides an explosive combination.
The United Nations says illegal mining operations are providing funding for the rebel groups behind the renewed conflict, including the forces of the rebel general Laurent Nkunda.
Many people have died in the latest eruption of violence, and over 250,000 people have fled their homes.
Blessing or curse
International efforts to bring peace to the region are increasingly focussed on the way that factions in the region have been using its mineral wealth to buy arms.
Workers toil to extract diamonds, gold, copper and cassiterite in the thousands of open mines which litter the contested eastern region.
The untapped wealth of the forested landscape is worth billions of dollars but only a tiny fraction of that reaches the pockets of ordinary citizens.
The recent battles in the eastern Kivu region partly stem from the same Hutu-Tutsi rivalry which prompted the Rwandan genocide of the 1990s but crucially, the fighting is financed by Kivu’s buried treasure.
Many people complain that the natural riches of the region are the main cause of their misery.
Rebel groups, as well as the Congolese army, trade in the minerals and that provides the money to enable them to keep fighting.
For some armed groups the war has become little more than a private racket with the minerals themselves providing the motive for carrying on the fighting, according to Carina Tertsakian of the international campaign organisation Global Witness.
The region accounts for 5% of the global supply of cassiterite, the primary ore of tin and a crucial element of all kinds of electronic circuitry, and is worth $70 million a year.
“To reach the world market the ore is flown to the regional capital of Goma and then, via Rwanda and Uganda, it reaches to east African ports of Mombasa in Kenya and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania,” says Harrison Mitchell of the Resource Consulting Service.
The ore is then shipped to smelters who buy tin on the open market.
Located predominantly in India, China, Malaysia and Thailand, these smelters sell tin to component manufacturers.
Public pressure has forced the diamond trade to monitor sources and Mr Mitchell says the same should now apply to the trade in cassiterite.
“We talked to some high profile electronic companies and we found that the final end-users of tin were generally unaware of where the product was coming from,” he says.
There are many legal mining operations within the Democratic Republic of Congo but in the contested Eastern region, there are now proposals to limit the illegal trade.
These range from calls for a total ban, to the idea of chemically identifying the varieties of tin coming out of each area, which would allow exporters to filter out the worst sources.
Campaigners say that any indiscriminate ban will severely hurt the long-suffering and impoverished local population.