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Trial in DRC Focuses Attention on Mining Industry

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VOA News - December 14, 2006

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Soldiers from the Democratic Republic of Congo and employees of an international mining company went on trial this week. They are charged with committing war crimes against civilians during an army crackdown in 2004. For VOA, Phuong Tran reports from the Dakar bureau on the on-going trial.

A military court in Lubumbashi, in the mineral rich Katanga region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is pursuing a case against government soldiers and employees of the Canadian-Australian Anvil Mining Company.

The court is deciding if the soldiers committed war crimes when they carried out a crackdown on a local rebel group. Dozens were reported killed in the fighting in October 2004 in the small fishing town of Kilwa.

The prosecution team is accusing the soldiers of rape, lootings and summary executions of civilians. Anvil Mining Company, which has headquarters in Canada and Australia, as well as an office in the DRC, is accused of helping the soldiers commit war crimes.

The company was mining copper near Kilwa at the time of the alleged crimes. Legal counsel for the prosecution, Richard Meeran, describes how the mining employees assisted the soldiers.

"Vehicles of the company had been used by the military in carrying out human rights atrocities. In particular, the company's charter planes had been used by the military to fly into the area and trucks owned by the company had been used by the military," he said.

The company has confirmed that it loaned transportation to Congolese soldiers to get to Kilwa in 2004. Anvil's spokesman based in Canada, Robert La Vallière, did not respond to request for comment for this report.

Canadian media has quoted him saying that Anvil's employees were forced to give in to the Congolese government request. He is quoted as saying in an Ottawa newspaper that if the army arrives with AK-47s, you give them what they want.

The Congolese military court must determine whether or not the company willingly helped.

Patricia Feeney is executive director of Rights and Accountability in Development, a British-based NGO that has been working on mining issues in the DRC since 2002. Her organization worked for two years with an international team of lawyers, human rights organizations and U.N. officials to bring this case to trial.

"We want to see justice done for the people of Kilwa and we want it to be made clear where companies have to draw the line in their relations with security forces," she said.

The lawyer for the prosecution team, Richard Meeran, says that the trial's outcome will be far reaching.

"This is a very important case not just for the victims and Anvil, but because of its wider implications for multinational companies operating in developing countries and, particularly, those in conflict zones," he said.

For Feeney, the case will address a question that is appropriate for the controversial mining industry, with its multiple multinational actors accused of carrying out harmful business practices.

"This is one of the burning issues in the business and human rights debate that is going on. Can businesses be held responsible for human rights violations?" she said.

Anvil Mining Company has substantial mineral interests in the DRC's Katanga region and is scheduled to start copper and silver production at two new mines next year.


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