EU sanctions Ugandan trader, M23 rebels over Congo fight

President Museveni (with hat) looks at gold samples during the launch of the African Gold Refinery in Entebbe, Wakiso District in 2017. The European Union (EU) has sanctioned the owner of Uganda’s gold refinery and others over insecurity in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • They are accused of, among others, grotesque rights violations and illicit exploitation of Congo’s natural resources.

The European Union (EU) has sanctioned the owner of Uganda’s gold refinery based in Entebbe, the leader of Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels, the spokesman of the M23 rebel group and five others over insecurity in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The sanctioned individuals include Alain François Viviane Goetz, the beneficial owner and former director of African Gold Refinery, which is registered in Uganda; Meddie Nkalubo, alias Mohammed Ali Nkalubo, Abul Jihad, Punny Boy, a senior ADF leader; and Maj Willy Ngoma, the spokesman of the Congolese’s M23 rebel group.

Other sanctioned individuals are Congolese nationals.

In a statement issued yesterday, the EU imposed travel restrictions on the individuals and froze their assets, accusing them, among others, of grotesque rights violations and illicit exploitation of Congo’s natural resources.

“Most of them are responsible for serious human rights violations and abuses and for sustaining the armed conflict in the DRC. Others have been listed for inciting violence and exploiting the conflict through the illicit exploitation or trade of natural resources,” the EU statement reads in part.

Eastern DRC has witnessed decades of war that have left millions killed and natural resources worth trillions of shillings plundered, according to local civil society groups and United Nations (UN) experts.

Yesterday’s EU sanction came on the day the UN said M23 rebels, which Kinshasa just like the United States and the world body accuse Rwanda of supporting, last week massacred 131 Congolese and raped 27 women and girls in Rutshuru region, eastern DRC, which is under its control.

Kigali denies supporting the rebels, which critics argued gave the rebels the military muscle for blistering battlefield gains over the past two months. Under mounting pressure, including possible military counter-offensive by East Africa Community Regional Force, M23 announced this week its willingness to withdraw from the captured territory and engage in direct talks with President Felix Tshisekedi’s government.

Yesterday’s sanctions are likely to have a huge impact on Uganda’s largest income earnings since African Gold Refinery, already sanctioned by the US, is one of the biggest players in the gold business in Uganda and the region.

The EU alleged that Mr Goetz, a Belgian national, whom they described as the beneficial owner and former director of African Gold Refinery, “received, purchased, refined and traded illicit gold originating from mines in the DRC that are controlled by non-governmental armed groups, including the Mai-Mai Yakutumba and Raia Mutomboki, which are involved in destabilising activities in South Kivu province.”

It added: “Alain Goetz is, therefore, exploiting the armed conflict, instability and insecurity in the DRC through the illicit exploitation and trade of natural resources.”

African Gold Refinery, a $20m plant, has been having an edge in the gold business and its export since 2015 when President Museveni issued a moratorium on the export of unprocessed minerals. The company employs more than 100 people most of whom are Ugandans.

In March, the United States sanctioned Goetz over similar allegations.

In the State of the Nation address in June, President Museveni said Uganda had discovered huge gold deposits that would fetch the country more than $12 trillion, and local companies like Africa Gold Refinery in Entebbe, would help in the processing.

Uganda’s gold exports have been on the rise since opening the Africa Gold Refinery in Entebbe, according to official records.

For instance, in 2019 and 2020, the country exported gold worth $1.9b to the United Arab Emirates, $1.4b to South Korea, and $28.7m to Hong Kong.

In contrast, Uganda imported nearly $2b worth of gold, making it the 18th largest gold importer in the world, according to Cabinet records.

In the newest sanctions, ADF leader Nkalubo, who is being hunted by Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) in eastern DRC, was sanctioned for contributions to abductions and killings in Uganda and the DRC.

“Owing to his senior leading position and various responsibilities in the ADF, Meddie Nkalubo is, therefore, involved in planning, directing or committing acts that constitute serious human rights violations or abuses in the DRC. He is also responsible for sustaining the armed conflict, instability and insecurity in the DRC,” the statement reads in part.

Maj Ngoma was accused of similar crimes as those of ADF’s Nkalubo.

On Monday, Congolese authorities accused M23 rebels of “massacring” more than 270 people in Kishishe village in eastern North Kivu province, a territory under the insurgents’ control, last Tuesday.

The rebels denied the allegations, saying the majority of the dead were enemy combatants killed in cross-fire. They said only eight civilians killed by stray bullets were among the deceased.

The United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) said 131 people were killed by M23 rebels on Tuesday and Wednesday, last week. According to MONUSCO, 102 men, 17 women and 12 children were executed using bullets or knives.

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