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Inner City Press Global Inner Cities Report - March 2, 2006

In Congolese Chaos, Shots Fired at U.N. Helicopter Gunship

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee, Inner City Press U.N. Correspondent

UNITED NATIONS, March 2 – In the eastern Congo, a joint operation between UN peacekeepers and Congolese soldiers to drive militias out of the town of Tchei has been called off, following a mutiny by dozens of Congolese soldiers. The soldiers fired on a UN helicopter carrying General Padiri of the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo, or FARDC. What this means for the DRC elections scheduled for later this year, and for the 17,000 UN peacekeepers in the DRC, is not clear.

            At a noon briefing at UN headquarters in New York, the Secretary-General’s spokesman described the operation to re-take Tchei.  In response to a question by Inner City Press, he also described Congolese army officers taking refuge from their troops in a UN compound.  The questions of implications for UN peacekeeping and DR Congo’s slated elections were left open. Following the briefing, a staffer tracking developments in Ituri confirmed that shots had been fired at UN helicopter.  He reported that a UN camp had been looted of foodstuff, saying that might explain the mutiny. He added that despite some reports that rebels were using human shields, there is no evidence of that.

MONUC / UN helicopter

            The mutiny by the FARDC troops in Tchei is not a one-off or primarily food-driven event. Further south, there have been reports of desertions from the FARDC’s 109th brigade, by soldiers refusing to fight the Burundian National Liberation Front Hutu rebels. In Ituri, the major groups are not Hutu and Tutsi but rather Hema and Lendu, and the largest rebel group is the Congolese Revolutionary Movement, which claims 18,000 militiamen.

            In terms of natural resources, the DR Congo has many, including but not limited to the coltan which is used in cellular phones; its resources have been up for grabs during the last years of chaos. Now some politicians in the Congolese Rally for Democracy (CRD) party are demanding immediate implementation of provisions concerning the share of the tax revenues between the central government and the provinces. Joseph Kabila’s People's Party for Reconstruction and Development (PPRD) has refused. Meanwhile, there’s been a recent leak of a report by the DRC's National Assembly's Special Commission on the war contracts reporting up to $10 billion may have been embezzled by the regime of Kabila père and the other warring parties.

            While public announcements of financial arrangements are few, in a rare and surreal November 2005 press release, First Canadian American Holding Corporation (FCAHC)  announced that its CEO Sandy Winick had “met with the Chargé d'Affaires -- Madam Louise Nzanga Ramazani of the DRC at their Embassy in Ottawa with First Canadian's consulting firm Quathemetin Consultants, to discuss furthering the development of low-cost housing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. First Canadian American Holding Corporation is the international licensee for Terrablock building products, a construction and development firm based in Orlando, Florida.” FCAHC describes itself has having “operations in areas of digital television, radio and building and construction” and as “actively looking at several other opportunities in many different industries such as natural resources, wireless, technology and biotechnology.” 

            In terms of housing, or the re-housing of those displaced, amid reports that hundred of civilians have fled Tchei, Inner City Press inquired with UNHCR in Geneva regarding provisions for refugees but was still awaiting a response at press time. From Kinshasa, MONUC issued a press release stating that civilians in Tchei are or were being “held against their will,” but distinguishing this from human shields since “due to their rules of engagement, blue helmets have to identify their targets before opening fire with light or heavy weapons, such as attack helicopters.” Meanwhile the rebels in Tchei have fired at UN helicopters.  The Congo war and its four million dead, already barely covered in major media, can barely hit the news even when a UN helicopter is fired upon. This is a developing story that we will continue to follow.

Multimedia:  Audio report from VoA

Empty Words on Money Laundering and Narcotics, from the UN, Georgia and Equatorial Guinea

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee, Inner City Press U.N. Correspondent

UNITED NATIONS, Feb. 28 – The International Narcotics Control Board released its 2005 annual report on Tuesday, during an embargoed briefing by retired U.S. diplomat and Board member Melvyn Levitsky. Asked by Inner City Press if the Board has taken a position on statements about coca by Bolivia’s new president Evo Morales, Mr. Levitsky responded that while the report ends with November 2005, Bolivia is a signatory to treaties that cover coca, and that the twenty five year opt-out for medical uses is not applicable. Mr. Levitsky confirmed that opium production in Afghanistan has increased since 2001, and ascribed this to areas of the country being outside of government control. The question arose, if the military firepower currently supporting the government of Hamid Karzai can’t or won’t turn the tide on opium production, it will be difficult to see anti-drug goals of the Board realized.

            Earlier in the briefing Mr. Levitsky had said that Afghan production is moving through Iran and “Russia;” asked to clarify, he said trafficking would have to move through the “former Soviet republics” of Central Asia in order to get to Russia.
            The report, in its 552nd paragraph on page 79, states that “Turkmenistan, whose extensive borders with Afghanistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are inadequately controlled, continues to be used as a transit country by trackers of Afghan opiates.”

            Also reported, but not connected, is the Board’s note a page earlier that “current legislation in Armenia, Georgia and Turkmenistan is insufficient to deal with the problem of money laundering; the Board urges the Governments of those countries to remedy the situation without delay.”

     Interviewed after the briefing by Inner City Press, Mr. Levitsky said that money laundering is not in the mandate of the International Narcotics Control Board. “We don’t have a section that monitors flows,” he said. Asked if the Board provides narcotic-specific information to the Financial Action Task Force, Mr.Levitsky shook his head and mentioned changes in Swiss and even Russian banking secrecy laws, but nothing about Turkmenistan, much less Georgia.

            Georgia’s permanent representative to the UN, Revaz Adamia, confirmed in a Feb. 1 press briefing quotes by National Bank of Georgia president Roman Gotsiridze regarding Russian banks money laundering in Abkhazia.  Mr. Adamia spoke of money laundering for “terrorism,” and said that he would more get more specifics from the National Bank of Georgia. While such information has yet to be provided, in Tbilisi Mr. Gotsiridze has said more, being quoted in a Rustavi-2 TV report on February 23 that

“The National Bank has asked the FATF to examine illegal activities of Russian commercial banks in Abkhazia. Here is a list of the Russian commercial banks that have been illegally operating in Abkhazia and laundering massive amounts of black money. It is not ruled out that there may be even more serious violations, for example financing of terrorism, going on in this uncontrolled area. Banks operating in Abkhazia are illegal and unlicensed banking establishments. The Russian legislation itself prohibits any economic relations with unlicensed organizations.”

            Inner City Press on Feb. 28 posed written questions to Georgia’s mission to the UN; the questions were not responded to by deadline.

Footnote on a footnote: The report states that “Equatorial Guinea remains the only State in Africa that is not yet a party to any of the three main international drug control treaties” (page 42). The Secretary-General on Feb. 27 met with the long-time president of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, and afterwards hailed him. One wonders if the topics of money laundering came up...

On the Web:

A related previous Inner City Press report --

Abkhazia: Cleansing and (Money) Laundering, Says Georgia, Even Terror’s Haven

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee, Inner City Press U.N. Correspondent

UNITED NATIONS, Feb. 1 -- The situation in Abkhazia should be internationalized, said Georgia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Revaz Adamia, on February 1. Briefing reporters at the UN Headquarters, Mr. Adamia characterized the plight of ethnic Georgians in Abkhazia as one of ethnic cleansing and even genocide. He cited a figure of 10,000 dead (as well as 100 Russian soldiers killed). His prepared remarks referred to “de facto annexation” and that “acquisition of property in the conflict zones, including property of refugees and IDPs, by the Russian entities is underway at full steam.”

            As Inner City Press reported in December, the President of Georgia's National Bank Roman Gotsiridze has accused Russian banks in Abkhazia of money laundering and of financing terrorism. At the Feb. 1 UN briefing, Mr. Adamia responded to questioning by reiterating the allegation, and specifying that the perpetrator of particular terror attacks in Turkey is living in Abkhazia, “he has a shelter there.” Mr. Adamia promised to provide Inner City Press with further information and evidence; watch this space.

            On January 31, the Security Council extended the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) until March 31. The mission consists of 122 military observers and 13 civilian police officers.

After the briefing, in an interview with Inner City Press, Ambassador Adamia provided an update on the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline. He stated that the Georgian section pipe is full of oil, but that this is not yet the case in Turkey. He stated that Turkmenistan wants to use the BTC pipeline, but that the Kremlin for now is blocking it. This, Adamia said, makes more likely the construction of an underwater trans-Caspian pipeline. Pipe dream? Rose (revolution) colored glasses? Only time will tell.

Other Inner City Press reports are archived on

In Locked Down Iraq, Oil Flows Unmetered While Questions Run in Circles

What is the Sound of Eleven Uzbeks Disappearing? A Lack of Seats in Tashkent, a Turf War at UN

Kosovo: Of Collective Punishment and Electricity; Lights Out on Privatization of Ferronikeli Mines

Abkhazia: Cleansing and (Money) Laundering, Says Georgia, Even Terror’s Haven

Post-Tsunami Human Rights Abuses, including by UNDP in the Maldives

Halliburton Repays $9 Million, While Iraq’s Oil Remains Unmetered

Darfur on the Margins: Slovenia’s President Drnovsek’s Quixotic Call for Action Ignored

Who Pays for the Global Bird Flu Fight? Not the Corporations, So Far - UN

Citigroup Dissembles at United Nations Environmental Conference

Other Inner City Press reports are archived on

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