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Inner City Press Podcast --

At the UN, Congo Spin of Peter Karim's FNI Militia, Gold and Guns and Child Soldiers Still

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, May 23 -- "Have you seen the Congo story?" This question was asked among reporters at the UN Wednesday morning. BBC had reported that Pakistani peacekeepers in the UN's Democratic Republic of the Congo mission, MONUC, were involved in gold and gun trading. Rather than leaving it for the "if asked" at the noon press briefing, Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson read out two paragraphs about the investigation in her opening remarks.

            This did not prove to be enough preemption, however. Three more paragraphs were elicited when a reporter asked "why an investigation takes this long on something this serious... The allegation is that it was $2.5 million in gold out of Ituri, and colluded with the Congolese military, local armed groups and Indian businessmen."

            Another reporter -- not this one -- asked point blank, "How can we believe a word you say?"  The spokesperson smiled, even laughed. Video here, from Minute 16:20. This is to be contrasted to the spokesperson's testiness only the day before, in response to questions about letters from Lebanon and the still-withheld List of Staff of the UN Secretariat. Was the difference the day, or the perceived importance of the media and its readership?

            Following-up on these Congo questions, Inner City Press asked based on previous reporting:

Inner City Press: The militia group that was supposedly involved in the gold smuggling, the FNI, MONUC has just recently said that it has fully demobilized and had become part of the Army.  So, I guess I wondered, did anyone in either MONUC or OIOS speak with FNI?  Who did they speak with in this investigation?

Spokesperson:  Well, I don't have that information.  Only OIOS can give you that information and, as you know, the investigation is going on.  I cannot report on who they talked to.  What I do know is that they met with a number of witnesses in the field about the situation.  As for the disarmament thing, the disarmament was done.  You know, the allegations that we're talking about date back about a year and a half, two years ago.

            The FNI is the militia led by Peter Karim, who last year killed two UN peacekeepers from Nepal and held another seven hostage for a month, before being rewarded with a colonel's post in the Congolese army.

MONUC with binocs: looking for Peter Karim?

On May 23, unlike Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson's office these days, UNICEF answered Inner City Press' questions, in this case about child soldiers found during the ongoing demobilization of Karim's FNI:

Dear Matthew, below are some of the answers to your questions. Child soldiers DRC:

19 April, 201 FNI members left the Centre de Brassage Initial in Kpandroma (where ex-combatants are retrained and integrated into the FARDC - the DRC Armed Forces) and went to Bunia.

On 13 May, a second FNI group of more than 177 members arrived in Bunia.

Since April, 542 former combatants have surrendered, including 51 children associated with armed forces and groups.

From January to the present, 101 children associated with armed forces and groups have left and 95 per cent of them have been reunited with their families. The others have been transferred to COOPI’s transit and guidance centre awaiting reunification with their families.

It is currently estimated that some 150 children are still in Peter Karim's army.

The demobilization process is going smoothly and might be completed in three months’ time. However, there is still a significant number of children inside the FNI and we are hoping to reach them in future interventions.

            So while Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson says archly that "the disarmament was done," a UN agency in the field, UNICEF, says that "150 children are still in Peter Karim's army... and we are hoping to reach them in future interventions." So the disarmament is not complete. The FNI could and should still be interviewed about the allegations of some UN peacekeepers' gold and gun trading -- if the UN wants to know the truth.

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540