Dakar - M23 fighters in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo
are bankrolling their rebellion by smuggling illicit gold that is entering
jewelry stores and banks worldwide, according to a report published on Thursday.
The Washington-based anti-genocide advocacy group Enough
Project identifies three main gold exporters it believes are helping the M23
rebels and their allies to sell gold from eastern DRC, from which an estimated
$500m worth is traded annually.
The group says the individuals who are indirectly purchasing
smuggled gold in Uganda and Burundi without exercising due diligence should be
added to the list of those facing UN sanctions.
"That's not to say that somebody else couldn't try to
take it over but gold smuggling is a highly illicit business where people find
it very difficult to trust one another," said Sasha Lezhnev, senior policy
analyst for the Enough Project. "So building up those trust relationships
again would take quite a long time."
The report highlighting M23's financial resources comes
after a recent upsurge in rebel violence during which the Congolese military
was aided by a UN peacekeeping mission with a strengthened mandate to help
fight rebels. M23 and the Congolese government have agreed to resume talks
since those clashes erupted in late August, though negotiations have repeatedly
stalled and made little progress.
Vianney Kazarama, a spokesperson for the M23 rebels
"categorically denied" the report's findings Thursday, calling them
"Our leader Sultani Makenga has never trafficked
minerals from the time he was in the army until now," Kazarama told The
Eastern Congo's mineral riches have been exploited for years
by a myriad of armed rebel groups and militias who have used violence to
control the region's mines.
Gold smuggling operations
M23 formally launched its rebellion last year, drawing its
name from a failed March 23, 2009 peace agreement with the Congolese
government. Many of the M23 rebels, though, were previously members of earlier
group known as the CNDP that also was involved in gold trafficking.
The Enough Project says M23 commander Sultani Makenga has
taken over leadership of gold smuggling operations after former head Bosco
Ntaganda surrendered to authorities on war crimes charges at the International
Criminal Court. Much of the gold is being moved through a border crossing that
is under the control of M23, Lezhnev said.
The M23 rebels are now building alliances with other armed
fighters who control the region's mines, "traversing otherwise hostile
ethnic and political divisions," the report said. Their partners include
militia leader Sheka Ntabo Ntaberi, whose group is accused of raping hundreds
of women in Luvungi in 2010.
The Enough Project report accuses three main gold exporters
of aiding the rebels, each of whom have also been named in a UN Group of
Experts report: Rajendra "Raju" Kumar, who is believed to trade
through Mineral Impex Uganda; Mutoka Ruganyira of Ntahangwa Mining in Burundi;
and Madadali Sultanali Pirani, who is believed to run Silver Minerals in
It was not immediately possible to reach the exporters for
comment. Ruganyira told the Enough Project he had sold his company and no
longer traded gold, and investigators from the group were unable to reach the
other two for comment despite repeated attempts by phone and email, Lezhnev