The UN has covered up claims that its troops in Democratic Republic of Congo gave arms to militias and smuggled gold and ivory, the BBC has learned.
The allegations, based on confidential UN sources, involve Pakistani and Indian troops working as peacekeepers.
The UN investigated some of the claims in 2007, but said it could not substantiate claims of arms dealing.
UN insiders told the BBC’s Panorama they had been prevented from pursuing their inquiries for political reasons.
Gold and ivory
The UN peacekeeping operation in DR Congo is the largest in the world, with 17,000 troops, spread across the country.
The BBC’s Martin Plaut says they have managed to bring a measure of stability since they were first established by the UN in February 2000.
They have also helped disarm the warring factions, run democratic elections and assisted with reconstruction.
But an 18-month BBC investigation for Panorama 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 DR Congo.
– 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 looked into the allegations concerning the Pakistani troops in 2007.
It concluded that one officer had been responsible for dealing in gold – allowing traders to use UN aircraft to fly into the town, putting them up 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.”
But returning to eastern DR Congo, the BBC spoke to several residents of the mining town of Mongbwalu, who 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.
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 managed to get into the maximum security jail and both 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.”
The FNI has been described by Human Rights Watch as “some of the most murderous individuals that operate in eastern Congo”.
The ethnic Lendu militia was involved in the bitter clashes with their Hema rivals in the Ituri district.
UN insiders – close to the investigation – told the BBC they had been prevented from pursuing their inquiries for political reasons.
The BBC’s 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.
These are not the only allegations to have been brought against peacekeepers in DR Congo.
In December 2006, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said Moroccan troops had been involved in widespread sexual abuse.
“There have been crimes such as rape, paedophilia and human trafficking,” he said, shortly before leaving office.
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