â€˜Blood mineralsâ€™ in DRCâ€™s Kivu
29 Jul 2007
The ensuing mineral smuggling led to a self-financed war of occupation. Many well-written articles and reports have been compiled about mineral smuggling in the Congo during the 2nd Congo War (1998-2003), and I will not recount them except to say that from 1998-2001, coltan was the most desired mineral in the Congo. When the 2nd Congo War began in 1998, coltan was valued at $20 (U.S.) per pound. By the end of 2000, it was worth more than $200 (U.S.) per pound.
Prices soared due to skyrocketing demand from the electronics, defense, and aerospace industries. From 1998-2001, the U.S. was the world's top coltan importer. China, fueled by its role in manufacturing the electronics industry's components, became the largest coltan importer in 2002. Coltan was processed into its two component minerals (columbite and tantalite) and used heavily during the launch of the Sony Playstation and in the booming cell phone industry. More recently, these minerals are used in portable mp3 players like IPods and computers.
Coltan's value tumbled down swiftly in late 2001. Ironically, the U.S. was partially responsible for the drastically plummeting price when the Pentagon's Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) released their burgeoning surplus stock onto the open market for purchase in December 2000. The sudden and dramatic increase in supply sent the market price crashing down.
Since coltan mining is no longer as profitable, cassiterite has become the most desired mineral in the Kivus and the Congo contains a third of the world's cassiterite reserves.
Cassiterite is normally found in the same mining areas as coltan and its value lies in the fact that it yields tin after smelting. New environmental laws enacted in Japan and the European Union (E.U.) in 2004 forced all lead-based solders to be replaced with tin as soon as possible, raising its demand considerably because solder is heavily used in the electronics industry. Cassiterite also has applications in the automotive industry and can also be used as a metal coating to prevent corrosion. China's exponential growth in the industrial economy sector also contributed to a greater market demand for cassiterite.
The largest cassiterite mines in the Congo are located near Kasese and Kalima in Maniema Province, near Walikale town in North Kivu Province, and Kamituga in South Kivu Province. The cassiterite ore located near Walikale is particularly valuable because it is chemically bound to a high-grade form of iron that can be separated and sold separately by traders for additional profit. The most valuable mine in Walikale Territory is in Bisie, located north of Walikale town. Bisie contains diamonds, uranium, cobalt, cassiterite, and bauxite deposits. There is a 45 kilometer path from Walikale town into the Kakalo Forest where the mine is located and it often takes several days to get there by foot. After digging up the minerals in Bisie, traders meet the artisanal miners in the village of Mubi to appraise each dig's value.
The ore is purchased by private buyers or licensed comptoirs. A comptoir is a business that buys the raw minerals extracted from the mines before they are processed. They, in turn, sell them to the mineral processing companies. Each comptoir generally specializes in one or two specific minerals and many of the owners in the cities are foreigners, often of Lebanese or Pakistani descent. Smugglers who do not have export licenses often purchase minerals and then sneak across the Rwandan border on foot under the cover of darkness. From Mubi, wealth buyers and comptoir owners have the minerals flown out in small charter planes to Goma or Kigali for refining and/or export to international refineries.
Mubi has the only viable airstrip in the area besides Nzovu. It was used as a makeshift airstrip during the 2nd Congo War to deploy soldiers deep into Walikale Territory. The Mubi airstrip was originally a road connecting Mubi, Walikale town, and Kisangani, but it degraded so much during the years Joseph Mobutu was president, vehicles can no longer safely travel on it. The road is tarred, but filled with numerous gaping potholes and only small charter or cargo planes can land there effectively. In recent years, there have been several plane crashes on the road. Rebuilding this road is a priority of President Joseph Kabila's administration to facilitate better access to the mines.
There are smaller cassiterite deposits around Luwowo in Masisi Territory, but the infrastructure is so poor, it can only be worked by artisanal miners at the present time. Mataba Hill, also located in Masisi Territory, has coltan deposits and a lesser amount of cassiterite. Currently, most of the hill is owned by Edouard Mwangachuchu, who set up a mineral exporting firm called MHI. In 1996, Mr. Mwangachuchu was a political refugee in the U.S. after escaping the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (AFDL-CZ) and Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) invasion. When he returned to the Congo, he founded MHI in 1998 with his business partner; an American physician from Baltimore named Robert Sussman. They purchased land usage rights on Mataba Hill from the Rally for Congolese Democracy's (RCD) Mining Department, bypassing the Congolese Ministry of Mining. They then proceeded to hire armed guards to protect their investment.
The Mumba/Bibatama open pit mine near Ngungu is also highly coveted. There are additional cassiterite concentrations in Punia, Kalima, and Lugushwa. Farther north in Lubero Territory, Munguredjipa and Muhinga also have high-grade ores. South Kivu Province has smaller cassiterite mines currently controlled by the Forces Combattantes Abacunguzi (FOCA), the Rasta, and Mai-Mai who have refused to integrate into the Congolese national army (FARDC).
Rwanda has seeks to gain control over Walikale's mines through allied businesses in the Congo. In 2004, middle men were purchasing stolen and illegally mined cassiterite from Walikale Territory and transporting it to Rwanda through Goma. The Rwandan border town of Gisenyi, just across the border from Goma, has a cassiterite and tantalum smelting plant operated by the South African Metal Processing Association (MPA). In 2004, MPA sold the majority of their refined cassiterite to Metmar Trading. Metmar had a lucrative contract with ISCOR (Iron and Steel Association of South Africa), a company that was eventually bought out by Mittal Steel. MPA also had a deal with Soci't' Aurif're et Industrielle du Kivu et du Maniema (SAKIMA) SARL for 37 mining concessions.
MPA was founded by Bruce Stride and Brian Christophers. MPA is associated with Tibere Rujigiro, a major financial backer of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) party. Mr. Rujigiro is a business partner of South African Nick Watson, an executive manager of MPA. MPA is the parent company of Mining Processing Congo (MPC), a leading cassiterite buyer and exporter in Goma. The 2005 phonebook for the Democratic Republic of the Congo lists Mining Processing Congo SPRL's manager as Norbert Friedrich.
In Goma, MPA has a subsidiary called Metal Processing Congo. Metal Processing Congo is one of the largest coltan and cassiterite purchasing agents in the Kivus. It is also often abbreviated as MPC, which can lead to confusion between Metal Processing Congo and Mining Processing Congo. A 2005 phonebook from the Democratic Republic of the Congo lists Metal Processing Congo's manager as Ivo Blauwers.
Currently, MPC and a company called Bangandula Mining Group are in a legal battle over the right to mine Bisie. MPC holds a prospecting permit from the Land Registry in Kinshasa, but Bangandula has a leasing agreement for the concession with SAKIMA SARL. MPC insists Bisie does not form part of the concession Bangandula is leasing. Chantal Bashizi, Director of the mining land register, agreed with MPC but the local mwami (chief) has not sided with either firm, meaning that customary laws for land-usage rights have not been enacted. The situation deteriorated to the point where an MPC employee was killed at the company's camp on 29th October 2006.
While MPC was dealing the death of an employee, Bangandula tried to sweeten the deal by promising to allow artisan miners on the concession, but a look behind the scenes at Bangandula reveals a troubling history. In 2005, the Bandagula Association owned by Babuni Motokotoko, Fikiri Mayani, and Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka received a mining permit from the North Kivu Provincial Minister of Mines, Emmanuel Ndimubanzi Ngoroba. In June 2005, they created Bangandula Company SPRL and quickly sent their representatives to Walikale Territory to get a mining contract from the resident Bassa clan. The contract allowed them to send the minerals extracted from Bisie to purchasing agents in Goma, including MPC and Sodexmines, their supposed rivals.
After the contract was signed, Bangandula Mining Group was formed as a joint venture between Bangandula Company SPRL, Modeste Makabuza's Saphyr Society, Mapatano, and 10 private investors, including Alexis Makabuza, Modeste's brother. He is the primary shareholder and controller of the deal. SAKIMA (chaired by Amisi Mudjanahery), with the support of the Minister of Finance and the (then) RCD-G Minister of Economy, signed a deal with Bangandula for the concessions in Walikale Territory, again bypassing the Congolese Ministry of Mines. Mr. Makabuza immediately set up barricades from Walikale town to Hombo and forced artisan miners to pay mineral extraction taxes. It was even reported Mr. Makabuza is partly responsible for
the death of the MPC employee because the Mining Group works closely with the FARDC's non-integrated 85th Brigade to control access to the mine, providing an example were Rwandan allies and Kablia loyalists are willing to work together when the profit margin is high enough. Soldiers from the 85th Brigade were responsible for the death of the MPC employee on 29 October 2006.
The 85th Battalion is comprised of ex-Mai-Mai fighters who fought against General Nkundabatware, the Rwandan backed commander of a group of Tutsi soldiers in North Kivu. The 85th Brigade continues to control access to the mining area. The soldiers have stolen large quantities of bauxite from other miners in the area, intimidated rival tradesmen in the area, set up roadblocks, illegally taxed local artisanal miners, raped women, and tortured the rape victims' respective husbands if they resist. They also force locals to mine for them. This is despite the fact Walikale Territorial Administrator Dieudonn' Tshishiku and North Kivu's Provincial Director of Mining Emmanuel Ndimubaze have declared the area unsafe and unsuitable for mining. The dilapidated mine is at high risk for collapse.
Additionally, the soldiers terrorize travelling salesmen in transit from Bukavu. 85th Battalion soldiers have even fought amongst each other for total dominance over the mining area and its illicit taxation system. The 85th Battalion's commander, Colonel Samy Matumo, denies all wrongdoing despite the admittance of Colonel Delphin Kahimbi, (then) Deputy Commander of the 8th Military Region (North Kivu Province). President Joseph Kabila and the FARDC's Chief of Staff, General Kisempia Sungila Lombe, have done nothing to integrate these men into the FARDC, nor have they seriously tried to stop the rampant human rights abuses. The only recorded disciplinary action is the arrest of a soldier from the 85th Brigade for killing a civilian in Walikale town.
As valuable as the mine in Bisie is, the Lueshe mine located in Rutshuru Territory (North Kivu Province) may be even more valuable. The mine contains an extremely valuable deposit of pyrochlore. The chemical composition of this ore is so unique; numerous chemistry reference manuals give it its own name: "Lueshite." The only other place pyrochlore can be extracted from is Arax', Brazil. The village is located on a mining concession owned by the Soci't' Mini're du Kivu (SOMIKIVU). There are a number of housing quarters built on the site that originally housed the site's workers.
Pyrochlore is a radioactive compound comprised of a niobium compound bound to a form of tantalum called a microlite. The niobium (also known as columbium) is currently more desirable than its sister component. It is primarily used to create heat-resistant steel and glass alloys used in various construction materials. The steel alloys are widely used to construct oil pipelines and the glass alloys are used in the corrective lenses of eyeglasses. Niobium is also used in nuclear reactors, air frames, jewelry, chemical processing equipment, magnetic resonance imagery (MRI) machines and superconducting magnets. When niobium is combined with iron, the super-alloy ferroniobium is formed, which is used in jet engines, rocket assembly, furnace parts, automobile and truck bodies, railroad tracks, ship hulls, and turbines depending on the percentage of niobium composition.
The tantalum is used to create electronic capacitors used in cell (mobile) phones, laptop computers, video game systems, pacemakers, surgical instruments, pagers, automotive electronics, camera lenses, digital cameras, camera lenses, global positioning systems (GPS), electronic capacitors, lithium ion batteries, prosthetics, surgical implants, and fiber optics. It can also be alloyed with other metals to create heat-resistant compounds widely used in jet engines, nuclear reactors, and various missile parts.
The importance of the Lueshe mine is hardly a new discovery. One former NGO worker I interviewed stumbled upon the Lueshe mine back in 1986 while wandering around Rutshuru Territory looking for a local priest. He told me he did not have any idea the mine was there. Curious to learn more about this mysterious mining facility, he allowed a Belgian mining technician to give him a tour of the place. The technician explained the pyrochlore was being mined for its niobium, which was being used to create the heat-resistant tiles on National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) space shuttles. He proudly proclaimed that a nearby airstrip on a coffee plantation served as the landing point for a military official from the North American Treaty Organization (NATO) who occasionally visited the mine. The Belgian worker also casually explained how the local water supply had inadvertently been poisoned with arsenic during the mining operations. In the late 1980s, the NGO worker I interviewed was involved in projects to improve the abysmal infrastructure in Goma, which had fallen into almost complete disrepair as a result of President Mobutu's kleptocratic regime. The city was frequently without electricity. Naturally, he was excited to learn a power line was being built from Bukavu up to Goma. It was even more exciting because it was very rare to see President Mobutu spend money on infrastructure. Clearly, this power line had great significance to him. It did not take long to find out what it was. Not long after construction began, the hapless citizens of Goma were told the project was delayed indefinitely. It turned out the Zairian government told the contractors to divert the power line away from Goma and connect it to the Lueshe mining site instead.
Lueshe is located on the former SOMIKIVU mining concession that was owned by a group of German shareholders that included the former manager of SOMIKIVU, Karl Heinz Albers. As a result of a trust agreement, the German shareholders continued to control SOMIKIVU's activities. In 1982, SOMIKIVU was created as a joint venture between Nuremburg-based Gesellschaft f'r Elektrometallurgie (GfE) and the Zairian government. GfE was a subsidiary of Metalurg Incorporated, a company headquartered in New York. Mr. Albers first gained the majority ownership rights to mine the Lueshe site through a joint venture between Metalurg Incorporated and SOMIKIVU, which bestowed 70 percent of the shares in SOMIKIVU to GfE while 20 percent was owned by the government of Zaire.
Minority shareholders included Coffimines, and Sobaki (based in Brussels). Mr. Albers personally acquired majority control over the Lueshe mine in 1993 when one of the German firms he worked for, GfE Metalle und Materialien GmbH, gave him their shares in the project. Mr. Albers business partner (and Board of Directors member) in GfE was the (then) RCD's Minister of Finance, Emmanuel Kamanzi.
When Laurent Kabila evicted Joseph Mobutu and took power, he dissolved SOMIKIVU, much to the displeasure of international backers. However, Mr. Albers was able to continue mining on the property by dealing directly with the RCD's parallel government administration that was inaugurated in 1998 with the help of the Rwandan Government. Mr. Albers effectively bypassed the Congolese Ministry of Mines by paying off the RCD for land-use rights to mine Lueshe without interference from their armed wing, the Congolese National Army (ANC). The RCD was interested in doing business with Mr. Albers because he was the largest coltan trader in Goma at the time and he had virtually unlimited access to the Rwandan export market, which meant money for the rebel administration's war expenses. The RCD moved their illegally-mined coltan from the Congo through his business networks to refine and export the ore while laundering the profits. The arrangement worked out so well for both parties, the RCD even loaned him ANC soldiers to stand guard over the Lueshe concession.
After 1997, one of Mr. Albers business partners was Dr. Mis Tshaba Mulombu III, President L. Kabila's former presidential advisor and the former Chief of the Rwandan Secret Service in Goma. Meanwhile, since SOMIKIVU was dismantled, the Congolese Government no longer recognized GfE's contract. Instead, the Congolese Government sold the rights to mine Lueshe to a newly inaugurated company named Edith Krall M'tal Congo SCARL (owned by Austrian Michael Krall) in 1999. Mr. Krall owned a copper/cobalt plant in Jinja, Uganda and he wanted to expand his operations. The Lueshe mine officially reopened in early 2000.
Mr. Krall sent a team to scout the Lueshe site in early 2000. When they arrived, they were greeted by RPA and ANC soldiers guarding the mine. The workers retreated to Goma, where they were promptly arrested by RCD immigration officers. Mr. Albers, who was living in Kigali at the time, was informed of the arrest. He reportedly ordered the officers to kill all the members of the delegation. The RCD Chief of Secret Services refused the order and set them all free. The workers were later contacted by ANC soldiers who said they would allow Edith Krall to mine the land, but only if the company purchased weapons for them. Krall employees returned to Goma after the Lusaka Accords were signed, but they avoided Rutshuru Territory until 2003. Mr. Krall has been in a legal battle for Lueshe ever since.
Through his network of businesses, Mr. Albers enjoyed a virtual monopoly over coltan exportation. Mr. Albers also owned GBC, Goma's main coltan exporter during the coltan boom of 2000. GBC was the primary seller of unprocessed tantalum to H.C. Starck, a huge mineral processing company owned by The Bayer Group A.G. through at least 2002. Mr. Albers also conducted business with COPIMAR (Cooperative for the Promotion of Artisanal Mining Industries), a mineral exporting firm managed by RPA Major Dan Nzaremba, and with
other Rwandan firms like Godefrey Bayoli Stones, the General Business Company Rwanda, and Great Lakes Trader Kigali.
Mr. Albers United Nations (U.N)-blacklisted firm Masingiro was the parent company of GBC. Masingoro was a mineral trading company that was later integrated into Karl Heinz Albers Holding International (KHA). Masingoro shipped pyrochlore from Lueshe to be assayed for purity by a British firm called Alfred Knight Holdings (AKH). AKH had a branch in Kigali and they also owned a subsidiary in Congo's Katanga Province that closed in 2005. AKH completed numerous lab assays of pyrochlore shipments for Mr. Albers from 2002-2004 and was a re-exporter of cassiterite and coltan. The only pyrochlore in the area is found in the Lueshe mine, so it is extremely unlikely AKH could not have known were the minerals they tested were coming from. From there, the pyrochlore was shipped to Europe, chiefly through the port city of Rotterdam, Holland.
Another subsidiary of KHA is the Niobium Mining Company (NMC) Limited based in London. NMC Metallurgy SARL was opened in Kigali as a subsidiary of NMC. NMC Metallurgy acquired the Karuruma smelting plant from the Rwandan Government as part of Rwanda's mass privatization plan to attract foreign investors and generate more income for the Rwandan war "efforts" in the Congo. The Karuruma plant's creation was partially financed by the Rwandese Commercial Bank, which was run by John Madder, a KHA shareholder. The bank was previously owned by Rwanda's R'gie des Mines du Rwanda (REDEMI). REDEMI was established in 1988 from the Soci't' des Mines du Rwanda (SOMIRWA). Interestingly, REDIMI ran a coltan processing plant in Gatumba in 2004, the same year the massacre at the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) camp in Gatumba occurred. REDEMI also ran a cassiterite-processing plant in Rutongo, Rwanda.
A British firm called A&M Minerals Limited, a subsidiary of The A&M Group, also got in on the act. A German named Michael Herzfeld (Manager of A&M's offices in New York and Brussels) wired money to Mr. Albers in exchange for the ability to process the pyrochlore he mined from Lueshe. Mr. Herzfeld also supplied SOMIKIVU's de facto manager Modeste Makabuza with chemicals used to refine pyrochlore from Lueshe, which Mr. Makabuza likely used in conjunction with the cassiterite purchasing store he owns.
One of Mr. Albers business partners, Johanna K'nig, helped facilitate the purchase of minerals extracted from Lueshe through a complicated network of German businesses. She also forged the certificate of authenticity to hide the fact that the minerals were smuggled from the Congo. The operation apparently had the blessing of Germany's Foreign Ministry until at least 2002. The capital from these sales provided the RCD and the Rwandan Government with income they could use for military spending to prolong the war of occupation. In early 2004, when it was clear Mr. Albers business empire was crumbling, she personally visited the mine with Modeste and Alexis Makabuza. She announced to the Congolese locals working there that the mine was now the property of the German Republic and she ordered them to continue working without pay under the command of the RPA.
Another business partner of Mr. Albers was Dr. Johannes Wontka, the technical director of SOMIKIVU before it was dissolved. He reportedly told a Rwandan officer to execute any Krall associates who tried to gain access to the mine. The officer refused to carry out his orders and instead told the police. The general prosecutor of North Kivu asked Dr. Wontka to come to Goma and provide proof of GfE's right to mine Lueshe. Dr. Wontka was arrested at the border trying to flee to Rwanda. He was arrested and GfE's mineral stores in Goma were impounded. Doretta Loschelder, the German Ambassador to Congo, promptly announced Germany would withdraw all its investments in the Congo unless Dr. Wontka was released. The Minister of Justice caved in and set him free. He immediately fled to Rwanda.
In 2004, after several demands to Interpol for an inquest into his business activities, Mr. Albers filed for bankruptcy and was put under house arrest in Goma. Mr. Albers resigned from SOMIKIVU and put a French national named Julien Boillot in charge. Mr. Boillot was an administrator for NMC. Mr. Boillot eventually turned over control of SOMIKIVU to Modeste Makabuza in April 2004. In the meantime, Mr. Albers delegated control of the remainder of his firms and then fled Kigali for Germany in 2004.
Roughly two months after Mrs. Koenig visited Lueshe, Rwanda made their move to obtain physical control over the mining sites in Walikale Territory and Lueshe. In a well-conceived plan of misdirection, a group of dissident former ANC soldiers (led by General Laurent Nkundabatware) seized control of Bukavu, South Kivu's largest town, with the aid of the Rwandan Defense Force (RDF). The occupation of Bukavu forced Mission of the United Nations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) and the FARDC to bring in a large number of reinforcements to control the situation. A number of these soldiers were moved down from North Kivu. Once the number of troops was reduced in North Kivu, another RDF contingent invaded the Congo and drove the Mai-Mai and FOCA out Walikale Territory and the periphery of Lueshe. They then proceeded to export minerals from these mining sites back to Rwanda on cargo flights and by land.
Prior to the occupation of Bukavu, General Nkundabatware used Lueshe as a rear base for his soldiers. General Nkundabatware continued to utilize the former employee housing units as a rear base and the mine itself as an income source for his men since at least January 2004, when his men were first spotted guarding the mine. Employees of Edith Krall Consulting (Krall M'tal Congo's parent company), SOMIKIVU, and MONUC all reported General Nkundabatware himself stayed on the mining site several times during the summer of 2004 following the Bukavu crisis.
One of the most troubling aspects of these revelations is that Mrs. K'nig's visit coincided with his stay in Lueshe. General Nkundabatware eventually lost control of the mines in Walikale Territory, but he was able to retain control over Lueshe. The U.N. received several reports of his soldiers occupying the Lueshe mine well into the summer of 2006. In the meantime, General Nkundabatware was living and training his men in Kiloliwe, Masisi Territory. In August of 2006, General Nkundabatware announced the creation of his own political party, the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP). Its headquarters is located in the town of Kitchanga in Masisi Territory. Kitchanga has a pyrochlore and niobium processing factory which can be used to refine minerals extracted from the Lueshe mine.
Raw pyrochlore entering the European market is almost automatically assumed to be from Congo because Lueshe is the only major pyrochlore mining site in the relative area. Since Lueshe is in rebel-controlled territory, and the Lueshe mine is officially closed, any potential buyer of the pyrochlore would have serious legal and ethical issues to answer for if they actually bought it. Therefore, if Rwanda is exporting it, serious concerns should be raised because Rwanda does not have an internal source of pyrochlore. Moreover, pyrochlore can be chemically examined and matched to the mineral composition trends of Lueshe ore, thereby identifying it origin. However, if General Nkundabatware's sympathizers take the pyrochlore, then chemically treat it to yield niobium, and then Rwanda exports the niobium abroad, suspicion is reduced because there are several mines in the area refined niobium could come from. As an arbitrary example, say hypothetically a country has a small number of its own mining sites for coltan, niobium, and cassiterite. That country could say the minerals they are exporting originated from one of these sites and were treated at a smelting plant within the same country. All that is needed from there is a forged certificate of origin and an importer who would not ask questions. Essentially, this is a carbon copy of the diamond smuggling racket Charles Taylor ran in Liberia. The end result is that it is much more difficult to identify exported tantalum niobium as originating from the Lueshe mine. Additionally, at the present time, there is no independent and impartial commission that certifies any of the aforementioned minerals as "conflict-free."
Throughout the summer months of 2006, General Nkundabatware reinforced his army through forcible child conscription from both the Congo and Rwanda, and by integrating demobilized RDF soldiers with his men. These soldiers infiltrated the Congo and gathered in Virunga National Park. In November, a Congolese National Police (CNP) officer gunned down a Rwandan relative of General Nkundabatware's named Eric Musafiri Mayugi, a recently demobilized captain in the RDF. This event set off a brutal series of battles in North Kivu that forced General Nkundabatware to retreat to Rwanda after his men lost ground to the joint FARDC and MONUC forces.
The fighting finally subsided in mid-January, after General Nkundabatware enlisted Rwanda's help to negotiate a peace agreement. They ironed out a deal to "mix" General Nkundabatware's soldiers with ex-Mai-Mai units and former Local Defense Force (LDF) soldiers and deploy them in North Kivu. It wasn't long before the newly-integrated soldiers loyal to General Nkundabatware carried out their own missions. They attacked FOCA positions in North Kivu and murdered several Hutu and Hunde civilians they accused of collaborating with their enemy in Nyamilima, Buramba, and Katwiguru.
One of the blowback effects of these attacks was the displacement
of FOCA and Mai-Mai fighters to the Ugandan border area near Nyakakoma, Vitshumbi, and Virunga National Park to the west. The Lueshe mine, located on the road from Vitshumbi to Rutshuru town, is not far from these hideouts. The proximity of these rebel groups to the Lueshe mine and the supply routes south to Goma and south-east to the Rwandan border and Volcanoes National Park were a direct threat to General Nkundabatware and his Rwandan backers, who desperately needed the income from selling the ore. FOCA and Mai-Mai occupation of Virunga was also a threat because demobilized RDF soldiers and Rwandan civilians sent to fight for General Nkundabatware were still crossing over into Congo and congregating in Virunga National Park. These soldiers were also abducting Rwandan and Congolese children and training them in the forest.
At the end of March, in a series of events eerily familiar to the end of 2004, Rwandan officials reported FOCA elements had fired artillery across the border and killed Rwandan civilians. No independent investigation was ever conducted to confirm or disprove these claims. Rwandan President Paul Kagame quickly met with Congolese President J. Kabila and Foreign Affairs Minister Mbusa Nyamwisi and told them to take immediate action to remedy the situation. The situation was made all the more dire when FARDC soldiers loyal to General Nkundabatware shot at a MONUC reconnaissance helicopter.
In April, the FARDC soldiers loyal to General Nkundabatware launched attacks against FOCA and the Mai-Mai along the axis north of Lueshe. FOCA elements counterattacked in Rutshuru town, temporarily cutting off the road south of Lueshe. They were repelled and FOCA retreated to Nyabiondo to plan another offensive. After the fighting subsided, General Nkundabatware threatened to withdraw his men from the mixed brigades, claiming the mixing process was a failure. North Kivu's Governor, Julien Paluku, set up new barriers in Goma to help prevent mineral smuggling to Rwanda. RDF Chief of Staff James Kabarebe was called in to mediate between General Nkundabatware and the Congolese Government.
General Nkundabatware and his Rwandan backers will do everything they can to keep Lueshe under their control and they may make a move to re-exert control over Walikale Territory sometime in the future. Rwanda's infrastructure was annihilated during the Rwandan War and genocide that lasted from 1990-1994. Rwanda does not have much of a mining industry and the fall of coffee prices in the very early 1990s left Rwanda with little prospects for a viable economy. Rwanda cannot support all its expenses on its own. Rwanda has tried to generate income through private investment, but this strategy has not provided them with enough revenue to allow economic autonomy. This is why the Congo's minerals are so crucial to Rwanda and why the "blood minerals" trade continues today in Central Africa.
David Barouski is an African Affairs researcher and a Political Science student at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. He is a regular c