Saturday, July 23, 2005

IS THIS THE REAL REASON FOR BLOODSHED?

On the trail of DR Congo's 'cursed' gold.
By Will Ross BBC News, Mongbwalu.

In the town of Mongbwalu in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Richard is all smiles as he shows me a small flake of gold balanced on the tip of his finger. He has just found it after sieving mud and sand for the whole morning. The gold, which he wraps up in the metal foil from a cigarette packet, is worth less than $10 (£5.50) but it will provide food for his family.

DR Congo is rich in precious minerals such as diamonds and gold - but its people have gained little from this wealth because of conflict and bad government. A new report by Human Rights Watch says gold deposits in the volatile north-east of the country have been the catalyst for much of the conflict in the area. Much of the gold is sent to Uganda which has, as a result, become a significant exporter of the precious metal. The gold trail I am following to Uganda begins back in Mongbwalu, in DR Congo's Ituri district.

Thousands of miners work here in muddy pits, extracting sand, mud and rocks in the search for gold. But they are not getting rich and their work is risky. The disused, often flooded industrial mines are the most dangerous. Days before I visited Mongbwalu, two men had died because of a lack of oxygen in one such mine. Mongbwalu is a beautiful, fertile hilly area. But the presence of gold has given it a violent history.

The New York based Human Rights Watch says 2,000 civilians were killed during 2002 and 2003 as rival militias fought for control of the mines.

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