UNITED NATIONS, Nov. 19 (UPI) -- A Security Council panel of experts said Monday illicit exploitation of natural resources in the Congo continues because of a breakdown in Kinshasa's control amid the presence of armed groups.
The Congolese people are not benefiting from the exploitation, either, said the "Addendum to the Report of the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other forms of Wealth in the Democratic Republic of the Congo," a besieged Central Africa nation nearly the size of Western Europe.
Among other recommendations, it called for the review and revision of all Congo commercial contracts.
Members of the council discussed the report and its recommendations, said Ambassador Patricia Durrant, ambassador of Jamaica, this month's rotating president of the Security Council. She said it would continue consideration of the recommendations at a later date.
"The systematic exploitation of natural resources and other forms of wealth of the DRC continues unabated," the report said. "These activities involve a large number of state and non-state actions, belonging both to the region and outside, some directly involved in the conflict and others not. The exploitation has resulted in the further enrichment of individuals and institutions, who are opportunistically making use of the current situation to amass as much wealth as possible."
Without an end to the current, longstanding conflict "it would be highly unrealistic to expect an end to the exploitation of natural resources," the panel said.
"The history of the DRC, regardless of the political system or governing authority in place, has been one of systematic abuse of its natural and human resources," said the addendum. Ambassador Mahmoud Kassem of Egypt, chairman of the panel, presented it to the full 15-member council.
"This exploitation has almost always been backed by the brutal use of force and directed to the benefit of a powerful few," the report said. "As the country's precious resources were plundered and mismanaged an informal economy based on barter, smuggling and fraudulent trade in commodities thrived, becoming the some means of survival for much of the population."
The natural resources include gold, copper, cobalt, diamonds, timber and coltan, an excellent electrical conductor needed in high-tech communications, such as cellular telephones.
"A country known for its vast natural wealth was reduced to one of the poorest and debt-ridden states in the early 1990s," the report said.
Informal trade in these commodities fostered ties "based on ethnicity, kinship and colonial structures" with such neighboring states as Burundi and Rwanda, as well as Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, Angola and Zambia.
Since April a cease-fire "has held along the confrontation line among the parties," the report said. "Uganda began pulling out some troops and Namibia withdrew almost all of its troops."
But the expert panel said "sporadic fighting" continued involving Congolese militia and rebel factions and Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda-backed elements. Allies of Kinshasa were allegedly taking their cut of the action too.
"A primary and fundamental reason for the continuing and systematic exploitation by various predatory troops operating in the country is effective collapse of all state institutions and structures of the DRC," the panel said. "Unable or unwilling to resist and pressure, it is vulnerable in the extreme."
The experts recommend enabling the Congo to have effective control over its territory and to protect its natural resources.
The international community should assist in formulating a plan of action on the rebuilding of state institutions in the country, they said. "This should be linked to the convening of an international conference on peace and development in the Great Lakes region" of Africa.
The experts recommended "all concessions, commercial agreements and contracts signed during the era of Laurent-Désiré Kabila and subsequently in the rebel-held areas, including such concessions, contract and commercial agreements signed secretly and under duress should be reviewed and revised to address and correct all the irregularities."
Kabila was assassinated in January and his son, Joseph, took over.
Renegotiation should be done under a special body to be created by the council, the experts said, adding, "this process will enhance President Joseph Kabila's efforts towards rebuilding and reconstructing his country in a transparent and structured manner."
The U.N. Organization Mission in the DRC should accelerate the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process in order to reduce security concerns
The experts also called for a moratorium for a "specific period of time," without recommending one, and "banning the purchase and importing of precious products" originating in areas where foreign troops or rebels are present in the Congo.
Sanctions were also suggested as a possibility but they gave no recommendations of what kind.
Notably, Kassem thanked Burundi, Namibia and Uganda for their help in preparing the report, while chastising the governments of South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe for their lack of cooperation.