DR Congo cracks down on gold smugglers

Saturday September 24 2016

Gold miners at the Chudja mine in north-eastern

Gold miners at the Chudja mine in north-eastern Congo. The Democratic Republic of Congo government has been losing artisanal gold worth up to $38 million annually due to alleged smuggling by Chinese companies in collusion with officials from the provincial administration. PHOTO | FILE 

By KENNEDY SENELWA

The Democratic Republic of Congo has moved to end gold smuggling in South Kivu Province, and banned a Chinese firm from operating in the area.

Shabunda, a territory of South Kivu in eastern DRC, experienced a gold rush in 2014. But miners face illegal taxation and extortion from armed local groups and corrupt officials.

Authorities in Kinshasa have accused Kun Hou Mining of China of illegal operations, and directed South Kivu to prosecute mining officials who have acted illegally.

A letter sent to South Kivu Governor Marcellien Cishambo by Mines Minister Martin Kabwelulu prohibits Kun Hou from signing new contracts with mining co-operatives, and buying and selling gold.

In October 2015, Mr Cishambo suspended the firm’s activities.

“Almost a year after the national minister instructed that Kun Hou Mining be suspended, South Kivu’s governor has allowed the company to continue its operations,” said Global Witness senior campaigner Sophia Pickles.

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The authorities will now be required to have mixed teams to inspect mining sites, provide information on the location of the mines, and the presence of children and pregnant women.

The move follows an exposé by Global Witness of a conflict minerals triangle linking local armed groups, artisanal miners and public officials who fabricate documents.

The London-based civil society organisation exposed how the groups received gifts of arms and cash from Kun Hou, and extorted up to $25,000 monthly from miners from 2014.

In its July 2016 report titled River of Gold, Global Witness disclosed how, in one year, up to $17 million’s worth of gold produced by Kun Hou Mining went missing, and was likely to have been smuggled out of the country.

Mr Kabwelulu said high ranking members of the Congolese army are targeting miners in South Kivu, and asked DRC Defence Minister Aimé Ngoy Mukena to remove them.

Mr Kabwelulu copied the letter to President Joseph Kabila and other officials.

“It’s time to make sure revenues generated from gold production go into state coffers. The population of Shabunda deserve to benefit from their country’s mineral wealth,” said Global Witness.

Shortly after publication of the Global Witness report, South Kivu issued new regulations prohibiting civil society from accessing mining sites without special consent.

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