In a 159-page report entitled The Curse of Gold, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that AngloGold Ashanti had developed links with the Nationalist and Integrationist Front (FNI) rebel group to secure a gold-rich mining site near the town of Mongbwalu.
“We are not talking about vast amounts of money but through the relationship the group gained credibility,” said HRW researcher Anneke Van Woudenberg in Johannesburg where the report was released.
According to the report, AngloGold Ashanti opened contacts with FNI leader Floribert Ndjabu and his commander Iribi Pitchou in late 2003 “to apparently ask for permission to start gold exploration drilling activities in Mongbwalu, necessary because the FNI were in physical control of the mines and surrounding territory”.
“As AngloGold Ashanti received permission from the FNI to start operations in Mongbwalu, FNI combatants were returning from their murderous campaign of ethnic killings,” said the report.
HRW said that AngloGold Ashanti “provided meaningful, financial and logistical support” to the FNI up to September 2004 including payment of “landing fees” for cargo flown into the local airport and a $8000 kickback in January.
AngloGold is accused of financial
AngloGold Ashanti has denied the claim although it said that it would conduct a high-level review of the allegations concerning its operations in the Ituri region.
The mining giant said the FNI had extorted the sums and that there had been an “unauthorised arrangement” for the payment of the fees at the airport.
“AngloGold Ashanti does not and will not support militia or any other groups whose actions constitute an assault on efforts to achieve peace and democracy,” said a company statement.
Support – ‘unavoidable contact’
“In respect of the payments, we repeat that this will not reoccur. Should we find ourselves in a situation where there is pressure on our staff again to yield to extortionate demands, we will consider that to be grounds for our withdrawal from the exploration project,” said the statement.
AngloGold Ashanti said it drew a “distinction between support” for a group and what it terms as “some level of unavoidable contact”.
There are an estimated 2500 armed fighters left in the Ituri region where inter-ethnic clashes near the Ugandan border have claimed at least 60,000 lives and displaced more than 500,000 people since 1999.
Militia groups rampant in the region and well-armed because of the weaponry that flooded the DRC during a devastating 1999-2003 war are routinely accused of committing documented atrocities and human rights abuses.