Kenya, DRC to probe gold smuggling

[] — 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.

“The team will work closely with the teams in the two countries that had already begun investigations on alleged trade in illegal gold,” said a statement from Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki’s office.

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.

Last month, seven foreigners were arrested in the eastern Congolese city of Goma on suspicion of trying to smuggle hundreds of kilograms of gold from the country.

A Kenyan tax official was shot dead at the weekend while investigating the discovery of two-and-a-half tonnes of gold in Nairobi worth about $100 million.

Gold hovered at near record highs on Thursday, after rising by 10 percent in the six weeks since the unrest in north Africa erupted, and hit a record $1,440.10 an ounce on Wednesday.

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.