Congo Watch: August 2006

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Top UN aid official to visit DRC, Uganda and southern Sudan

UN News Centre report 31 Aug 2006 - excerpt:
Although the troubled eastern half of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has made some progress recently, there have also been serious setbacks and donor funding falls way below local needs, the United Nations' most senior humanitarian official said today.

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland told reporters at UN HQ in New York that the humanitarian needs in the eastern DRC are probably greater than anywhere else in the world as he announced he would visit central Africa next week.

Mr Egeland will then travel to Uganda before finishing his tour in Juba, southern Sudan, where peace talks involving the Ugandan Government and the rebel LRA are taking place. Last weekend the LRA and Uganda signed a cessation of hostilities agreement to end their 20-year conflict in the north of the nation.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

DRC: Guns silenced with a ceasefire

Bodies are still lying in the streets of Kinshasa and pillaging continues in some neighbourhoods but a ceasefire reached late on Tuesday between President Joseph Kabila and Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba seems to be holding.

Full report IRIN 23 Aug 2006.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

EU boosts DRC force amid battle

Some 400 extra European Union troops are being flown into DRC capital, Kinshasa, in an attempt to quell gun battles.

The Dutch and German peacekeepers were on standby in nearby Gabon in case of violence during last month's elections. - BBC

Monday, August 21, 2006

UN peacekeepers in DRC rescue trapped envoys

UN peacekeepers in the DRC have rescued several foreign ambassadors trapped in a house in Kinshasa by heavy shooting.

"They're out and they'tr coming to UN headquarters. Everyone's safe," a spokesman for the UN force said, after the diplomats were rescued. - BBC

Diplomats flee DR Congo shooting

Several foreign ambassadors in the DRC have sought shelter in the house of an opposition leader after heavy shooting, BBC reported today:
They include the UK envoy and the head of the UN mission, a UN official said.

He said the UN, which has the world's largest peacekeeping force in DR Congo, has sent armoured vehicles to the area.

The gunfire follows Sunday's clashes between forces loyal to President Joseph Kabila and Jean-Pierre Bemba, rivals in October's election run-off.

UN spokesman Jean-Tobie Okala said the situation was confused, but confirmed that the envoys had sought refuge in Mr Bemba's residence in the city centre.

The ambassadors from the permanent five members of the UN Security Council - the UK, France, Russia, the US and China - were due to have been meeting Congolese politicians nearby although it is not yet clear which of them is trapped there.

Breaking News: Gunfight pins down envoys in DRC capital

This is terrible: just in, from The Salon Breaking News: DRC:
Gunfight pins down envoys in Congo capital - Yahoo! News: "KINSHASA (Reuters) - Soldiers loyal to Congo's President Joseph Kabila opened fire on Monday around a house where U.N. officials and ambassadors were meeting his main political rival Jean-Pierre Bemba, witnesses said.

They said the presidential guard used at least one tank and heavy machine guns in a gunfight with Bemba's armed supporters around his riverside house.

The gunfire erupted for a second day, hours after electoral officials announced a presidential run-off vote between Kabila and Bemba following July 30 elections.

'The entire CIAT (foreign donors' group) is in Bemba's house having a meeting with him. Kabila's people are firing on the area,' a U.N. source, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.

A western diplomat said the ambassadors were pinned down in a safe room in the house.

A Reuters correspondent saw plumes of thick, black smoke rising from the area of the residence.

The shooting followed gunbattles on Sunday between soldiers loyal to Kabila and armed supporters of Bemba. The two are due to face off in a second-round vote on October 29."

DR Congo election outcome forces run-off

President Kabila wins DR Congo's landmark poll, but fails to secure 50% of the vote, forcing a second round.

Full story: BBC

Sunday, August 13, 2006

DRC elections: final results expected Aug 20

President Joseph Kabila has taken 90 percent of the vote in the eastern provinces of North Kivu, Maniema and Katanga.

But he managed only 16 percent in the capital, Kinshasa, where his chief rival, Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba, appears to have swept the board.

The results betray Congo's deep divisions. Bemba is a former rebel.

Read full story by David blair 9 Aug 2006.

Kabila

Photo: Joseph Kabila with his wife, after voting in Kinshasa (David Blair)

Aug 7 2006 Telegraph Blogs: David Blair: Congo's election drags on - excerpt:
All the votes cast on July 30 are supposedly being counted at the moment. But reports from around the country suggest this process is degenerating into a shambles. A counting centre holding about one quarter of all the votes cast in the capital, Kinshasa, mysteriously caught fire last week.

All across Congo, reports have emerged of ballots being taken to counting centres and then dumped in large piles and ignored. Others seem not to have made it to counting centres at all. Used ballot papers have been mixed with blank or spoiled ones. Meanwhile, the local media have busily reported "unofficial" results - apparently leaked from the counting centres - suggesting that President Joseph Kabila is sweeping eastern Congo but trailing behind his main rival, Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba in Kinshasa and the west.

While in Kinshasa, I wrote that the key question for the election was whether the three vice-presidents who are running for the top job will accept the outcome of the poll. One of them, Azarias Ruberwa [pictured here below], has now announced that he will challenge the result when it emerges. Another, Arthur Z'Ahidi Ngoma, denounced the contest even before voting began.

ruberwa1.jpg

This election was intended to give Congo its first legitimate government for 45 years. But if the count is a mess and the result bitterly disputed, it could have exactly the opposite effect and provide Congo with yet another spur to conflict and division. Final results are now expected on August 20, but a second round between the top two presidential candidates - probably Kabila and Bemba - will almost certainly take place in October. At present, the prognosis looks bleak.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Iran tried to import uranium from Lubumbashi mines in DRC

Ali at The Salon picks up on a story about Iran trying to import uranium from DRC: the shipment was intercepted in Tanzania, The Sunday Times reported, citing a senior Tanzanian customs officer.

Here is a copy of the Sunday Times report - Iran's plot to mine uranium in Africa - by Jon Swain, David Leppard and Brian Johnson-Thomas Aug 6, 2006:
IRAN is seeking to import large consignments of bomb-making uranium from the African mining area that produced the Hiroshima bomb, an investigation has revealed.

A United Nations report, dated July 18, said there was "no doubt" that a huge shipment of smuggled uranium 238, uncovered by customs officials in Tanzania, was transported from the Lubumbashi mines in the Congo.

Tanzanian customs officials told The Sunday Times it was destined for the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, and was stopped on October 22 last year during a routine check.

The disclosure will heighten western fears about the extent of Iran's presumed nuclear weapons programme and the strategic implications of Iran's continuing support for Hezbollah during the war with Israel.

It has also emerged that terror cells backed by Iran may be prepared to mount attacks against nuclear power plants in Britain. Intelligence circulating in Whitehall suggests that sleeper cells linked to Tehran have been conducting reconnaissance at some nuclear sites in preparation for a possible attack.

The parliamentary intelligence and security committee has reported that Iran represented one of the three biggest security threats to Britain. The UN security council has given Iran until the end of this month to halt its uranium enrichment activities. The UN has threatened sanctions if Tehran fails to do so.

A senior Tanzanian customs official said the illicit uranium shipment was found hidden in a consignment of coltan, a rare mineral used to make chips in mobile telephones. The shipment was destined for smelting in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, delivered via Bandar Abbas, Iran's biggest port.

"There were several containers due to be shipped and they were all routinely scanned with a Geiger counter," the official said.

"This one was very radioactive. When we opened the container it was full of drums of coltan. Each drum contains about 50kg of ore. When the first and second rows were removed,the ones after that were found to be drums of uranium."

In a nuclear reactor, uranium 238 can be used to breed plutonium used in nuclear weapons.

The customs officer, who spoke to The Sunday Times on condition he was not named, added: "The container was put in a secure part of the port and it was later taken away, by the Americans, I think, or at least with their help. We have all been told not to talk to anyone about this."

The report by the UN investigation team was submitted to the chairman of the UN sanctions committee, Oswaldo de Rivero, at the end of July and will be considered soon by the security council.

It states that Tanzania provided "limited data" on three other shipments of radioactive materials seized in Dar es Salaam over the past 10 years.

The experts said: "In reference to the last shipment from October 2005, the Tanzanian government left no doubt that the uranium was transported from Lubumbashi by road through Zambia to the united republic of Tanzania."

Lubumbashi is the capital of mineral-rich Katanga province, home of the Shinkolobwe uranium mine that produced material for the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

The mine has officially been closed since 1961, before the country's independence from Belgium, but the UN investigators have told the security council that they found evidence of illegal mining still going on at the site.

In 1999 there were reports that the Congolese authorities had tried to re-open the mine with the help of North Korea. In recent years miners are said to have broken open the lids and extracted ore from the shafts, while police and local authorities turned a blind eye.

In June a parliamentary committee warned that Britain could be attacked by Iranian terrorists if tensions increased.

A source with access to current MI5 assessments said: "There is great concern about Iranian sleeper cells inside this country. The intelligence services are taking this threat very seriously."

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Ed Rackley's Rackleyed blog covers Congo

Just received an email from Dr Edward B Rackley in Washington, DC, USA telling me he works in Congo regularly and other African countries as well.

Ed has worked in conflict and post conflict countries for most of the last 15 years. His work involves setting up emergency aid programs, running them, or evaluation them.

Across the divide: analysis & anecdote from Africa is a blog he started earlier this year as a critique from within the international aid industry; political commentary from a number of African countries. He covers Congo fairly regularly. I've not yet had a chance to read Ed's blog but will do later on, after I've added it to my newsfeed.

Thanks Ed! It's always a pleasure to hear from readers. Here's looking forward to following your blog entries. I did a quick scroll and was pleased to find this image of DRC's flag. I wonder if it is DRC's latest flag. I've had trouble finding an image of the new flag. The only one I could find is in the sidebar here - click on its image for more details.

DR Congo flag

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

DR Congo wins UN praise for general calm as it holds first free elections in 45 years

Secretary-General Kofi Annan led a chorus of UN voices today in congratulating the DRC for the largely peaceful manner in which the vast African country has held its first free and fair elections in 45 years.

Full story UN News Centre 31 Jul 2006.