May 25, 2007

Pakistani UN Peacekeepers sell guns for gold

Thu May 24, 2007 4:16 pm (PST)

UN troops traded guns for gold with militias, says report
By David Usborne in New York
Published: 24 May 2007

Scandal is engulfing the United Nations once again after allegations
that peacekeepers stationed in Congo traded guns for gold with
militia groups that they were meant to be disarming. Meanwhile, a
trial got under way in New York of a former UN official accused of
taking bribes.

The UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) said in a
statement that an investigation into the guns-for-gold claims had
begun and was continuing, adding that it had a "zero-tolerance policy
for misconduct and will remain vigilant in preventing egregious and
unacceptable behaviour".

At the heart of the investigation are allegations that, in 2005,
Pakistani soldiers sent by the UN to restore peace in Ituri province
around the north-eastern mining town of Mongbwalu began returning
guns to militia groups, receiving gold in exchange.

Witnesses confirmed the existence of the trade to the BBC. One
Congolese officer "repeatedly saw militia who had been disarmed one
day but the next day would become rearmed again. The information he
could obtain was always the same, that it would be the Pakistani
battalion giving arms back to the militia."

Human Rights Watch said it had its own information on the case which
it had passed to the UN. "Pakistani officers were involved in illegal
smuggling of between $2m-$5m in gold out of Ituri. We have very solid
information on this," said Anneke Van Woudenberg, a researcher with
the group.

The Congo force of almost 18,000 soldiers is the largest UN
deployment in the world. It has been credited with helping the
country's transition to a fragile democracy after a vicious civil war
from 1998 to 2003 that killed as many as four million people and drew
in forces from several neighbouring countries.

The UN has been accused of burying the initial findings of the
investigation to avoid embarrassing Pakistan, the largest
peacekeeping troop contributor. The UN's special representative in
the DRC, William Swing, emphatically denied the guns-for-gold claims.

A spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad, Tasnim Aslam,
said yesterday that it had been informed by the UN peacekeeping
department, the DPKO, on Tuesday of the media exposure of the
case. "The DPKO also informed our mission that, at this stage, these
were mere allegations, which have to be looked into," she said. "On
our part, our relevant authorities will look into the matter to
ascertain facts."

The flow of UN scandals never seems to end. Recent years have seen
the inquiry into corruption in the oil-for-food programme in Iraq
before the toppling of Saddam Hussein, the resignation of Ruud
Lubbers as head of the UN High Commission for Refugees following
allegations of sexual harassment and revelations in 2005 of
peacekeepers trading food for sexual favours with women in Congo.

This week, meanwhile, saw the start of the fraud trial in New York of
Sanjaya Bahel, a native of India who stands accused of taking serial
bribes from a Florida businessman while he was head of the UN's
Commodity Procurement Section from 1999 to 2003.

Jurors have heard testimony from Nishan Kohli, the son of the
businessman, Nanak Kohli, that Mr Bahel helped secure $100m in
contracts from him in return for serial favours including a heavily
discounted luxury apartment in New York and cash.

On Tuesday, Mr Kohli went further saying that other UN workers
associated with Mr Bahel had been treated to nights in a hotel room
with prostitutes for their favours.

Mr Kohli said the relationship between Mr Bahel and his father became
so close that he was was "effectively a partner in our companies in
terms of how we operated and executed contracts".

Mr Bahel has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

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