Congo Arrests Foreign Suspected Gold Smugglers


"Nation's eastern region mining ban has gunmen clashing over resources."

Authorities in Congo have arrested four foreigners suspected of planning to smuggle millions of dollars of gold out of the country's lawless east, a senior local official said on Monday.

The fouróan American, a Frenchman and two Nigeriansówere arrested after they flew in a private plane from Nigeria to the eastern town of Goma on Feb. 3, North Kivu provincial governor Julien Paluku said.

Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is subject to a mining ban which was introduced in September by President Joseph Kabila to weed out what he called the "mafia" groups that control the mineral trade in the troubled region.

"Initial inquiries have revealed that these people arrived in Goma with a large sum of money, in millions of dollars, for a gold transaction," Paluku said.

The men are being held while investigations continue, he added.

Despite the official end to Congo's 1998-2003 war, much of the east remains littered with rebel groups, local militia and ill-disciplined army units.

The area is rich in tin, coltan and gold. Gunmen on all sides frequently clash over resources.

A U.N. panel of experts on Congo said last year that almost every mining deposit in the east is controlled by an armed group, and demilitarizing Congo's mine sites is crucial to cleaning up the trade.

Campaign group Enough said last week that rebel groups and senior Congolese commanders were still profiting from the trade despite the ban.

New U.S. legislation forcing companies who source minerals from the region to prove they are not fuelling conflict, is due to come into force in April.

However, there are concerns about how effective the scheme will be. Some analysts believe the ban has forced legal traders out of business, only for them to be replaced by more criminal elements.

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