Kenya, Congo to Probe Gold Smuggling Network


"Congo provinces are subject to a mining ban aiming to weed out illegal activity."

Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo have formed a joint team to investigate gold smuggling from eastern Congo, both nations said after a meeting of their presidents on Thursday.

Three provinces in Congo's conflict-wracked east are subject to a mining ban imposed last year by President Joseph Kabila to weed out what he called the "mafia groups" controlling the mineral trade.

Eastern Congo is rich in tin, coltan and gold and gunmen on all sides, who are frequently accused of widespread abuses, frequently clash over access to the resources.

Earlier this week Congo's Mines Minister Martin Kabwelulu said business could resume after successful efforts to clean up the trade, which observers believe has fuelled continuing conflict in the region between a multitude of armed groups.

An official in Congo's North Kivu province said late last month that "large amounts" of gold from eastern Congo had been recovered in Nairobi and Tanzania's Dar es Salaam.

Congo's Information Minister Lambert Mende told Reuters in Kinshasa that thousands of kilograms of gold had been seized in Kenya.

"This is a very serious issue especially if it's the tip of the iceberg. We know this is a network (of smugglers) and we need to disband this network, in Kenya, in Congo and elsewhere," Mende said.

Kabila's visit to Nairobi comes days before the mining ban in eastern Congo is due to be lifted on March 10.

However, independent New York based analyst Jason Stearns told Reuters that little had changed and that many key mine sites remain in the hands of the Congolese military, who have faced repeated accusations of being involved in illicit mining.

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